Portland councilors postpone vote on pesticide restrictions

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PORTLAND — It has been nearly two years since city councilors began a push to regulate the use of pesticides.

On Monday, the number of amendments to a proposed ordinance pushed a scheduled vote to Jan. 3, 2018.

Councilors heard 45 minutes of public comment on the ordinance and 11 possible amendments. Those who did not get the chance to speak will be allowed to comment on Jan. 3, Mayor Ethan Strimling said.

The only other public comment allowed at that time will be on amendments beyond those proposed Monday.

The ordinance would allow the use of organic pesticides including herbicides, as well as synthetic substances found on a U.S. Department of Agriculture National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.

All other synthetic substances would require a waiver from a new Pest Management Advisory Committee, or a successful appeal of a committee decision to the city manager’s office.

Waivers would be granted for emergency use only and after an applicant shows other efforts had failed.

After getting a waiver, users would also have to post areas where normally prohibited pesticides would be used. The PMAC would also report to the City Council annually on pesticide use in the city and help set up public education programs on pesticide use.

The ordinance exempts city-owned Hadlock Field and treatment of the city’s Heritage Elm, which are injected with synthetic pesticides to combat invasive insects. Synthetic pesticide use at five athletic fields could be allowed until January 2021.

As in South Portland, the ordinance would be enacted in stages, with all non-exempt city properties included first, beginning March 1, 2018. Private properties would be included beginning Jan. 1, 2019. The five high-use city athletic fields, including ones in Payson Park and on Fox Street, would be included beginning Jan. 1, 2021.

The ordinance is a close match to one enacted in South Portland in September 2016, and a stronger measure than previously recommended by a task force that met from June 2016 through last March.

The task force, led by Councilor Nick Mavodones, voted 10-1 in favor of an ordinance requiring waivers for organic and synthetic pesticide use as part of an integrated management plan.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who stewarded the task force plan through his Sustainability & Transportation Committee, said the approach brought to the council is more of an organic care management plan.

As defined in the ordinance, organic pesticides are “derived from mineral, plant, or animal matter and does not undergo a ‘synthetic’ process as defined in the Organic Foods Production Act.”

Synthetic pesticides or herbicides such as Roundup can contain substances including neonicotinoids, glyphosates and growth regulators, which have been linked to cancer and damage to body organs.

Amendments to the ordinance include two introduced by Strimling, three by Councilors Pious Ali and Brian Batson, and six brought to councilors by city staff.

Strimling would like the shoreline setback on any pesticide use to be 250 feet instead of 75, and allow abutters to be part of any appeal of a waiver decision.

Thibodeau said city staff discussed amendments to the ordinance during the committee deliberations. On Monday, Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon said these include having staff handle waiver requests, exempting plants currently considered invasive by the state from the regulations, exempting the five high-use fields, and having the ordinance expire Dec. 31, 2023.

The sunset clause proved one of the least popular amendments with ordinance supporters. Portland Protectors co-founder Maggie Knowles said a sunset date, if any, should not be applied until 2028 or later.

As to the waivers, resident Gwynne Williams said the neonicotinoids, glyphosates and growth regulators should be completely banned without exception or appeal.

The new ordinance frustrated Peaks Island resident Jesse O’Brien, a task force member who owns a turf farm in Kennebunk. O’Brien has said organics also pose health threats and the process has ignored key data and studies.

“We need to educate consumers and on what the results are going to be; the whole backbone of the ordinance will be the education,” O’Brien said.

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

Portland Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon speaks to the City Council Dec. 18 about amendments to a proposed pesticide ordinance. Councilors postponed a vote until Jan. 3, 2018.

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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.