Portland council committees, pesticide ban set

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PORTLAND — It took six weeks to determine who would lead and staff City Council committees in 2018.

It took more than two years to pass an ordinance regulating pesticide use in the city.

Both were accomplished at the first council meeting of the year on Jan. 3.

Committee appointments were accepted late in the meeting, after a nearly two-hour debate that saw councilors tell Mayor Ethan Strimling his desire to be chairman of the Finance Committee was unacceptable, along with his approach in developing the committee appointments.

Strimling will lead the council Rules & Reports Committee, and be a voting member of the Finance Committee, a compromise that came after Councilors Jill Duson and Pious Ali said the mayor should sit on no more than one committee. Councilor Belinda Ray said a mayor should not sit on any committee.

Strimling’s appointments keep leadership of committees largely status quo. Councilors Nick Mavodones and Spencer Thibodeau retain leadership of the Finance and Sustainability & Transportation committees, respectively.

Ray and Duson remain as chairwomen of Health & Human Services and Housing, respectively. Councilor Justin Costa will replace former Councilor David Brenerman as chairman of the Economic Development Committee, and Ali replaces Costa as leader of the Legislative/Nominating Committee.

The approved list was the sixth offered by Strimling for committee composition, which was supposed to be completed at the council’s first meeting in December. 

“Overall, I was incredibly frustrated by the situation that came from all of us and your comments in the media,” Councilor Brian Batson told Strimling during the debate. “I wish (a list) had been brought forward a week ago, this could have been fixed after the first veto.”

Strimling’s apologies for some comments he said stemmed from his frustrations were accepted, but the mayor reiterated his desire to be a more active participant with the council.

“If I am not a part of the decision making, I am on the outside looking in. It has not worked,” Strimling said.

Following the debate, the mayor’s fifth attempt to appoint the committees failed. The appointments later approved by the council were drafted during the meeting, and Strimling and Mavodones eventually stepped outside the chambers to discuss them before the council vote.

Getting the bugs out

Discussions of a proposed ordinance regulating pesticide use in the city date to 2015, when Councilor Jon Hinck led what was the Energy & Sustainability Committee.

Although Hinck was voted out of office in 2016, the discussions continued as Mavodones led an ad hoc committee that presented recommendations to councilors last spring.

Those recommendations were taken up by Thibodeau’s Sustainability & Transportation Committee through the fall, but the ordinance passed Jan. 3 significantly strengthened regulations requiring an organic approach to pest control that will take effect on city lands July 1.

Councilors also rejected proposed amendments from city staff, including exempting five high-use city athletic fields from regulations requiring waivers for use of synthetic pesticides such as Roundup. Pesticide use on fields on Fox Street, Back Cove and at Payson and Deering Oaks parks will be allowed until Jan. 1, 2021.

The regulations will encompass private property beginning Jan. 1, 2019. Allowed pesticide use will be restricted to organic compounds, or synthetic ones deemed “allowable” on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, or a “minimum risk” in the  Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

Among the items exempted from the regulations are pool chemicals, household disinfectants and rat and rodent poisons.

The ordinance also creates a Pesticide Management Advisory Committee to handle waiver requests, coordinate public education efforts and report on pesticide use annually to the council.

Passage of the stricter ordinance, which carries applicable civil penalties for violations, was cheered by Portland Protectors co-founder Avery Yale Kamila. 

“We are pleased by the City Council’s action and ready to move forward with the transition to organic management of parks, playing fields, and home yards as part of a landmark program for a healthy Portland,” she said in a Jan. 4 press release. 

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

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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.