Portland city councilors to take up regulation of pesticides

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PORTLAND — Getting the bugs out will be a big topic for the City Council Sustainability & Transportation Committee this summer.

The committee will begin to consider how to regulate pesticide use in a meeting on June 21 at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.

The panel, led by Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, includes Councilors Belinda Ray and Jill Duson. Thibodeau said he expects members to discuss regulations in at least two sessions and eventually include fertilizer use.

The meeting will include a public hearing, which comes after the Pesticide and Fertilizer Task Force established more than a year ago concluded its work in February.

“The task force process was important and a lot of work was done, but when it comes to the committee, we are free to do what we want. We want all of the information we can possibly get on this,” Thibodeau said June 7.

A report on the task force work and draft ordinance will be considered, but Thibodeau said the South Portland ordinance passed in September 2016 will also be part of committee deliberations.

The draft ordinance that is part of the task force report would prohibit using synthetic and organic pesticides “on privately or publicly owned turf, walkways, driveways and/or patios,” unless a waiver is granted as an emergency or because other demonstrated efforts to get rid of infestations have not worked. The waivers would be granted by the city manager or a designee.

By contrast, the South Portland ordinance allows the use of organic pesticides while severely restricting the use of synthetic ones. While the Portland draft proposes civil fines for violators, the South Portland ordinance lacks penalties for violators.

Both ordinances also rely heavily on public education to reduce the use of pesticides and form advisory boards to promote education and compile data on use.

The city task force was named by Mayor Ethan Strimling and led by Councilor Nick Mavodones.

It included Deven Morrill of Lucas Tree, Jesse O’Brien, a resident who also owns Downeast Turf Farm in Kennebunk; Bob Searle of the Maine Golf Course Superintendents Association; Friends of Casco Bay Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell; South Portland Stormwater Coordinator Fred Dillon, and Dr. Joe Staples of the University of Southern Maine Department of Environmental Science.

Avery Yale Kamila, a founder of Portland Protectors, was the sole task force member to oppose the ordinance draft.

“The Portland council formed a task force dominated by pesticide applicators without a single organic land care or public health expert,” she said in a June 10 email. “Not only was the task force skewed against its mission (to evaluate the South Portland organic ordinance) but it was run in a flawed manner.”

Kamila objected to Morrill’s presence because he was also appointed to the Maine Board of Pesticide Control by Gov. Paul LePage and has advocated eliminating home rule for communities looking to regulate pesticide use.

On Monday, Strimling said he had not yet reviewed the task force report, but sought balance when creating it.

“My interest is coming up with a South Portland ordinance or stronger that restricts use of pesticides in the city,” Strimling said.

Because a colleague at his law firm of Verrill-Dana took part in the task force work, Thibodeau said he considered recusing himself from committee discussions.

“I had an abundance of caution; I’ve never represented someone in the business,” Thibodeau said.

After discussing the situation with city Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta, Thibodeau said he is comfortable participating because the discussions will be about specific ordinances.

Restricted use of pesticides is also Thibodeau’s intent.

“I don’t want these pesticides used, end of story.” he said. 

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland community gardens such as this one at Clark and Salem streets do not allow use of synthetic pesticides. Advocates of a stronger city ordinance would like to extend the ban throughout the city.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.