Portland pesticide opponents put pressure on city councilors

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PORTLAND — Things were buzzing June 21 about 75 yards from the sixth hole on the North Course at Riverside Municipal Golf Course.

“A lot of golfers don’t know I have a hive here,” Course Supervisor Gene Pierotti said as he pulled a rack of bees from a three-tiered hive.

About seven hours later at City Hall, supporters of stringent pesticide use regulations, wearing bee stickers, urged city councilors for prompt, decisive action.

“Now is the time to take the leadership role while you can,” Portland Protectors co-founder Maggie Knowles said during a hearing conducted by the City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee.

Knowles and others asked the panel, led by Councilor Spencer Thibodeau and staffed by Councilors Belinda Ray and Jill Duson, to forward an ordinance as tough, if not tougher, than the one South Portland enacted last September.

Thibodeau expects a three-month committee process that also considers an ordinance recommended by the Pesticide and Fertilizer Task Force appointed by Mayor Ethan Strimling in May 2016. It met from June 2016 through the end of January.

On Tuesday, Thibodeau said the next step is a July 26 panel discussion on both ordinances.

Both ordinances would rely on public education and restrict pesticide use by requiring waivers after all other measures have failed. The task force has included organic pesticides within the waiver requirements, which is not the case in South Portland.

The South Portland ordinance is a phased process that will eventually include that city’s nine-hole municipal golf course. In Portland, the Riverside Golf Course could be exempted, but Pierotti said he has already taken steps to reduce synthetic pesticide use by 60 percent.

That is achieved largely by dividing the 27 holes at Riverside into thirds and treating each area every three years, while also introducing organic methods.

“It has been very expensive to shift,” Pierotti said, “but cost is not really a factor, and the course has never been better.”

Pierotti also plans to install five more hives while adding 150 trees and plants over nine acres, using a $5,000 grant from Feed a Bee, based in North Carolina.

“I want it to be a model,” he said, “to show we are a steward of the environment.”

In the committee hearing, Jay Feldman, the executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Beyond Pesticides, urged a wholesale shift in philosophy and practices.

“We are talking about biological systems in the soil that needs to be managed with products that are consistent with systems in the soil,” he said.

Task force member Cathy Ramsdell, executive director of Friends of Casco Bay, said including organics in the ban would reduce leaching of pesticides into water.

“The ban also means there is no second guessing (about use),” she said.

But Portland Protectors co-founder Avery Yale Kamila, who served with Ramsdell on the task force, opposed the recommended ordinance as too small in scope.

She told the committee it codifies “junk science” about organics, waivers would be too easy to obtain, and should promote “building soil fertility.”

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

As debate on pesticide use buzzes in Portland City Hall, Riverside Golf Course Supervisor Gene Pierotti is adding beehives to increase pollinators at the course. “A lot of golfers don’t know I have a hive here,” he said June 21.

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.