Portland panel sends pesticide rules to City Council

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PORTLAND — The City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee is expected to begin review of new pesticide regulations next month.

The action will come after a 12 member task force on Feb. 27 forwarded a proposed ordinance based on integrated pest management practices.

“What we want to see is people using less (pesticides) and building up the quality of their soil to have resiliency against pests,” Cathy Ramsdell, a task force member and executive director of Friends of Casco Bay, said March 3.

The ordinance draft was not completed Tuesday, but city Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon said March 2 the areas covered have been narrowed while the waiver requirement for pesticide uses have been expanded to include organic compounds.

The ordinance would cover lawns, patios and driveways or pavement, but not gardens or trees. Pesticide use within 75 feet of water would not be allowed, and an advisory committee would be formed to develop data on pesticide use.

The city would also lead a public education effort on the effects of organic and synthetic pesticides.

Portland Protectors co-founder Avery Yale Kamila was the lone opponent of the proposed ordinance, favoring a more restrictive ordinance like one enacted in South Portland in September, 2016.

That ordinance bans the use of synthetic pesticides on public and private land, although violators will not face penalties. It will be enacted in three phases through May 1, 2019. Pesticide use was also been banned in Ogunquit in 2014.

“The residents I represent want an ordinance as strong as or stronger than South Portland’s,” Kamila said March 3. 

Ramsdell, South Portland Stormwater Coordinator Fred Dillon, and Downeast Turf Farms owner Jesse O’Brien said the Portland ordinance should be viewed as a collaborative first step.

“It is an incremental step in the right direction,” said Dillon, who helped craft the South Portland ordinance.

O’Brien said the entire question is “complicated and emotional,” and was adamant organic pesticides had to be included in the waiver requirements for use.

“Just because it is organic,  it doesn’t make it safe. Just because it is synthetic, it does not make it highly toxic,” he said.

The common goal of the task force was reducing the use of all pesticides while promoting soil health that could prevent invasive species from taking hold.

“You have to make the case this is an emergency, and it is pretty strong in that regard,” Ramsdell said. “It is pretty much an outright ban on turf products in the city unless you have a waiver.”

Waivers would be granted by the city manager or a designee and still require using the most efficient and least toxic products after proving other remedies have not worked.

Councilor Nick Mavodones led the task force and praised its work, which began in June, 2016.

“I had nothing to do with selecting people, but it could not have been a more intelligent dedicated hardworking group,” he said March 3.

The Sustainability & Transportation Committee is led by Councilor Spencer Thibodeau. He is joined by Councilors Jill Duson and Belinda Ray. All could offer amendments to the ordinance, and Portland Protectors has already lined up statements from Sierra Club Maine, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and others urging the committee to adopt stronger regulations.

The ordinance would also be subject to public hearings before the committee and full council.

It is uncertain whether Thibodeau will be involved, though. He has recused himself right now as a colleague at his law firm of Verrill Dana has advocated for pesticide applicators during the task force meetings.

On Tuesday, Thibodeau said he and City Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta are still discussing the potential appearance of a conflict of interest at the committee level.

Thibodeau declined comment on the specific ordinance.

“People can glean from my position on diminishing the public use of pesticides, my view on the private use of pesticides would be the same,” he said.

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

Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St.

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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.