Portland task force to keep working on pesticide use

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PORTLAND — It has been more than seven months since a task force began considering how to reduce or eliminate pesticide use in the city.

On Wednesday, Jan. 4, the 12-member Pesticide and Fertilizer Task Force, led by Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr., will seek its fourth deadline extension from the city council  in the hopes of drafting a report by the end of February.

“The consensus was, they want to take a little more time, do some more work,” city Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon said Dec. 21.

As they moves forward in the new year, task force members will fashion a draft ordinance which attempts to merge an ordinance passed in South Portland in September 2016 with an “integrated pest management” plan favored by some task force members.

The draft ordinance discussed at the Dec. 21 meeting is the second attempt by city Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta to merge what are sometimes conflicting approaches.

The newest draft bans any use of synthetic or non-synthetic pesticides within 75 feet of water bodies or wetlands, and allows the use of synthetic pesticides such as Roundup only as a last resort.

The steps in between affect all public and private land and require first trying to control pests without any organic pesticides. Should the approach not work, then pesticides named on a “minimum risk” list by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could be applied.

Should minimum risk pesticides not work, stronger non-synthetic or organic pesticides could be applied, but only after the user documents the problem and the steps taken and submits the information in writing to a new Pesticide Oversight Committee that will be created by the ordinance.

Synthetic pesticide use would only be allowed after a waiver is obtained from the city, and would require users to post notification signs on the property affected.

The proposed seven-member Pesticide Oversight Committee would consist of three at-large city residents who are not environmental professionals or licensed pesticide applicators. The remaining four spots would be split by environmental professionals and two licensed pesticide applicators.

The committee would meet at least five times annually, help develop educational materials for distribution in stores, and report to the council Sustainability & Transportation Committee on the level of pesticide use in the city.

Wendy Harmon and Jessie O’Brien said a crucial part of any ordinance will come in public education efforts to steer people away from using synthetic pesticides.

“I think it is ultimately a good thing for our industry, it increases the level of knowledge,” said O’Brien, who owns Down East Turf Farms in Kennebunk. “Just because there are a couple of weeds does not mean you have to spray,”

O’Brien said he wants to be sure people understand organic pesticides may require more applications and still be less effective.

Avery Yale Kamila, a founder of Portland Protectors, said Dec. 23 the city should have a more restrictive ordinance preventing the use of synthetic pesticides and favors an ordinance patterned on the one passed in South Portland in September 2016.

She said the newer hybrid ordinance remains too ill-defined and has too many loopholes.

Harmon, a real estate agent and property manager, said the task force’s hard work will pay off.

“I guess I feel like there are some people digging their heels in, but there are some who believe there can be a compromise,” she said.

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

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.