SCARBOROUGH — The town’s fields, playgrounds and other public properties will be synthetic pesticide-free under a policy adopted Wednesday by the Town Council.
The policy, which calls chemical pesticides “a major environmental problem and a public health issue,” began as a conversation between town officials and members of what is now known as Citizens for a Green Scarborough. It was modeled after similar plans in Rockport and Camden.
The plan doesn’t carry the weight of an ordinance, but outlines a system for using organic bug- and weed-killers, the creation of a Pest Management Advisory Committee and a policy to use the Web and signs to notify residents when any product is used to manage pests on town land. In emergency situations, the town manager can obtain a waiver to use chemical pesticides.
Opponents of the policy included Councilor Richard Sullivan and a handful of landscapers and small-business owners, who feared the plan would affect their businesses.
But most of those who spoke during a lengthy public comment session were supporters, including representatives from Citizens for a Green Scarborough, the Scarborough Land Conservation Trust and Toxics Action Maine.
“In the not so distant future, this will be the norm,” Councilor Mike Wood said. “I think we’ll look back and kind of laugh at ourselves for the conversation we’ve had.”
The policy outlines “allowable products” that can be used to control unwanted plant and insect life, including natural or organic pesticides, and insects such as lady beetles, which can be introduced to kill unwanted bugs.
The Pest Management Advisory Committee would develop and oversee a program that works without synthetics, the widespread use of which the policy calls “a major environmental problem and a public health issue.”
Sullivan expressed concern that a ban on synthetic pesticides would result in more labor costs to take care of weeds and other pests. He also said health problems blamed on pesticides were overstated in the policy discussion.
“Scientists say that if label rules are followed correctly, synthetic pesticides are safe,” he said. “Pesticides have never been found in Scarborough’s water supply.”
Supporters of the policy, though, said they subscribe to the “precautionary principal” that because synthetic pesticides can potentially be dangerous to human health and the environment, it’s better not to use them at all.
“These chemicals may not affect everyone, but it’s the vulnerable people we’re interested in protecting,” resident Eddie Woodin said. Woodin and others pointed to warnings on chemical pesticides that they are unsafe for children.
Another resident, Harry White, was the most vocal opponent of the policy. He said Scarborough should trust the federal Environmental Protection Agency and other bodies that approve the use of synthetic pesticides.
“Everything everyone is saying tonight is interesting, but it’s pretty alarmist,” he said. “If I listened to it, I’d think we were all going to die pretty quick of synthetic pesticides. … I think this is a waste of money and I don’t trust the science behind a lot of the statements being made tonight.”
In the end though, the council approved the policy 4-1, with Sullivan dissenting. Councilors Ronald Ahlquist and Chairwoman Judith Roy were absent.
Appointments to the Pest Management Advisory Committee will begin immediately and will be handled by the town’s Appointments Committee.
In other business, the council approved a sign ordinance change that allows photos and graphics on electronic signs. It also sets a standard that letters on signs be 8 to 12 inches tall. A provision would have allowed for more colors than the white or gold allowed under current ordinance rules, but that change was eliminated.
The council also accepted three parcels of land along the Nonesuch River totaling 31 acres from the developer of the Windward Heights subdivision.
The town accepted the land in an effort to conserve the Nonesuch River corridor. The land will be used for “light recreation,” including the use of trails already on the properties.