Possible pesticide ban back before Portland city councilors

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PORTLAND — City councilors are again considering regulating the use of pesticides and herbicides, although discussions now are confined to their use on municipal land.

A proposed ordinance, last discussed in October 2015, was brought forward again Jan. 21 in the Council Energy & Sustainability Committee meeting, although no public comment or committee action was taken.

Councilor Jon Hinck, the committee chairman, asked for more information, including specifics about types of pesticides and herbicides, and the notice to be required before they are used, before the committee meets again Feb. 18.

Troy Moon, the city’s environmental programs manager, said the ordinance essentially codifies current city practices. It would encourage the use of organic compounds to fight plant growth and insects, but would continue to allow using chemical pesticides and herbicides on city golf courses and athletic fields.

The ordinance would prohibit use of chemical herbicides and pesticides within 25 feet of “coastal waters, rivers, tributaries, streams or wetlands.” Chemical use would be based on protocols of the best management practices outlined by the Maine Board of Pesticide Control.

The ordinance would also require commercial applicators to register with the city park manager and provide annual reports about substances applied on city land.

Moon and Ethan Owens, who oversees the use and management of city athletic fields, said pesticide and herbicide use is already limited, although Owens said he doubted the Riverside Golf Course could ever be maintained solely through organic compounds.

“We rarely use anything (on athletic fields),” Owens said. “On occasion we will use a weed-and-feed (product). We use a lot of organic fertilizer, which can be difficult because it puts out a lot of weeds.”

The city applies weed-killing compounds on city sidewalks and to combat growth of Japanese knotweed, an invasive species that grows in open spaces. Moon said a citrus-based organic compound was also used for the first time last year and showed success on plants in early stages of growth.

Adam Lee of the city corporation counsel’s office drafted the ordinance, and said it followed much of what was passed in Ogunquit about a year ago. The key difference is Ogunquit’s ordinance also applies to private property.

Councilor Ed Suslovic suggested the committee monitor any progress on a proposed pesticide regulation ordinance in South Portland. A citywide ban was discussed at a South Portland City Council workshop last July, but the council has not voted on an ordinance.

The committee also noted that the Legislature may consider a bill revising state regulations on pesticide and herbicide use, legislation that appeared to have a clause prohibiting municipalities from setting their own policies.

Chris O’Neil, who represents the New England Pest Management Association, presented a statement saying the bill “was hastily drafted at the 11th hour and language we believed should be placed in the bill was omitted in the final version.”

O’Neil said the final version of the bill submitted by Rep. Jeffrey L. Timberlake, R-Turner, will be “amended to say that municipalities can still adopt a pesticide ordinance, but not an ordinance that regulates those professional applicators who are licensed, certified and regulated by the Board of Pesticides Control.”

While councilors did not accept public comment during the workshop session, pesticide and herbicide use was brought up during public comments about council goals for this year.

Residents Avery Kamilla and John Thibodeau, among others, urged the committee to expand any regulation to include private property. Kamilla said councilors should reconsider a citizen-drafted ordinance, besides the one to be discussed at the next committee meeting.

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

Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck said he wants more information about city pesticide and herbicide use before his Energy & Sustainability Committee acts on proposed regulations.

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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.