PORTLAND — If organics are the coming wave for pesticide use, the city should prepare for a complete sea change.
“It is not simply a product swap out. It is learning alternative strategies,” business owner Chip Osborne told the City Council Sustainability & Transportation Committee in a July 26 workshop in City Hall.
The committee, led by Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, expects to forward an ordinance to the council next month for a public hearing and full council vote in October.
Osborne, owner of Osborne Organics; South Portland Sustainability Coordinator Julie Rosenbach, and Lawn Dawg Operations Manager Jason Billings provided insight on the South Portland ordinance and pesticide applications. City Arborist Jeff Tarling and Parks Division Director Ethan Hipple explained how and where the city applies synthetic pesticides to public lands.
The 12-member Pesticide and Fertilizer Task Force, which met from June 2016 through the end of January, has recommended an ordinance based on “integrated pest management.”
The approach requires efforts to eliminate infestations without using pesticides and documenting the attempts and nature of infestations before seeking a waiver to use pesticides.
The ordinance draft applies to “privately or publicly owned turf, walkways, driveways and/or patios.” The requirement for a waiver for organic pesticide use is a key distinction from the South Portland ordinance. A second difference is the South Portland ordinance has no civil penalties for violators.
Avery Yale Kamila, a founder of Portland Protectors, was the only task force member to oppose the recommended ordinance.
In South Portland, the new rules are just beginning to take effect, applying first to city-owned land. Next May the rules will apply to private property. In May 2019, the rules will apply to golf courses.
For 25 years, Osborne was a licensed applicator of synthetic pesticides, and shifted to an organic approach 15 years ago. He said the integrated approach recommended by the task force is inadequate for reducing the use of synthetic pesticides.
“It is a protocol, with no checks and balances along the way,” he said, adding an organic approach considers soil conditions more completely.
Noting his company is preparing to work within the restrictions in South Portland, Billings urged the committee to exempt licensed applicators from city rules because of their level of expertise compared to homeowners.
“We do not want to lose all our tools, because we use them right,” he said.
Rosenbach said the approach to regulations in South Portland, where councilors directed a committee to create regulations, also differs from Portland’s.
“It was not just ‘hey, what should we do with pesticides?’” she said.
The city task force was asked to consider what would be enacted in South Portland, but the full council can use or reject the task force recommendations in part or whole.
While pleased with what was enacted, Rosenbach has no illusions about the possibility of future revisions.
“It is far from perfect,” she said.
The city task force and South Portland ordinance each place a high priority on public education and notification of any pesticide use.
Tarling said arborists limit synthetic herbicide use to injections of fungicide in about two dozen elm trees that might be vulnerable to Dutch Elm disease.
Hipple said 0f the 721 acres of fields and parks he oversees, 710 are not treated with anything. Pesticide use has been reduced by about 60 percent at Riverside Golf Course, although it stands to be exempted from a city ordinance. He wants five more larger city athletic fields exempted, because heavy use requires some synthetic treatment.
The committee meets next on Aug. 16, in what should be another workshop, Thibodeau said.
Jason Billings of Lawn Dawg, left, South Portland Sustainability Coordinator Julie Rosenbach, Portland Parks Director Ethan Hipple and Osborne Organics owner Chip Osborne discuss regulating pesticides July 20 at Portland City Hall.