HARPSWELL — A proposed ordinance banning some pesticides in town elicited concern from area business owners Wednesday night, and may not make it to a vote at March’s town meeting.
The regulation, written by the town’s Conservation Commission, would ban a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids for outdoor, non-agricultural use. These chemicals act on the central nervous system of an insect, and have been shown to to be toxic to pollinators like honey bees.
Insect growth regulators, a type of pesticide that affects the hormone functioning in juvenile insects, have been banned in Harpswell since 2004.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes insect growth regulators as potentially toxic to certain fish and aquatic invertebrates such as lobsters.
But representatives from landscaping, tree-care and pest-control businesses took the podium at the Jan. 20 meeting of the Planning Board to criticize aspects of the proposed language.
Jeff Gillis, who owns Brunswick-based Well Tree, said he is concerned that the ordinance does not contain any exemptions for situations where the presence of insects could be harmful to human health, or could result in a significant loss of property.
Gillis said that injecting neonicotinoids into infested trees can be an effective tool for the eradication of pests like the emerald ash borer and the hemlock woolly adelgid, and cited pesticide ordinances in Ogunquit and Brunswick that have provisions for severe infestations.
Mike Peaslee, of Modern Pest Services in Brunswick, added that neonicotinoids are often used to treat structural pests, like bedbugs and termites.
He also read from an email from Tony Jadczak, the state bee inspector, saying that there were no documented honey bee kills in 2015 related to insecticide exposure.
“I think the intent of the ordinance is very good,” Peaslee said. “It just needs to be looked at very carefully.”
After the public comment, Mary Ann Nahf, chairwoman of the conservation commission, asked the Planning Board to come back again at a later date with a revised ordinance.
She noted it was the third public hearing they’d held on the topic.
Board members said they would not be able to hold the discussion at their Feb. 17 meeting, and the delay would make it impossible to send the ordinance to Town Meeting in March.
They indicated they could schedule a special meeting to hear the item, but did not make a decision Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, a state bill that would limit local control over pesticides sits in committee in Augusta.
That bill, “An Act to Create Stability in the Control of Pesticides,” sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, is meant to “(prohibit) a municipality from adopting an ordinance that specifically applies to pesticide storage, distribution or use unless the ordinance exempts farms, nurseries, and golf courses.”
Nahf said she believes Harpswell’s ordinance can be tailored to fit that exemption.
During the public hearing, Bill Moody, who works for an organic lawn care company in Topsham, openly wondered at the overall purpose of the ordinance.
“Do we know that the cause of the shellfish (decline) … is due to pesticides, and not … ocean acidification?,” he asked.
“Or,” he said, “Are (we) banning pesticides because it’s easy, because the problem is much bigger?”
Updated Jan. 25: Neonicotinoids can be used to control infestations of emerald ash borer and hemlock woolly adelgid.