South Portland council gives initial OK to pesticide ban

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council gave preliminary approval Monday to a ban on the use of synthetic pesticides on public and private property.

If enacted in a second reading Sept. 7, South Portland would become the second municipality in the state, after Ogunquit, to enact a comprehensive measure aimed at mitigating the adverse affects of pesticides on human health and the environment.

The ban would prohibit all turf, landscape and outdoor pest management pesticides, except for those listed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “allowed substances.”

It would also allow chemicals classified as “minimum risk” by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, according to a memo from Sustainability Coordinator Julie Rosenbach.

The version approved by the council does not include monetary penalties for the use of banned substances. Fines ranged from $200 to $1,000 in the initial proposal, but councilors decided educational outreach and support would be more appropriate.

There will be a waiver process for residents and business owners who need to apply a pesticide that isn’t allowed under the ordinance. But waivers will only be granted for “situations that pose a threat to public health and safety, or for the control of invasive species that pose a threat to the environment,” according to Rosenbach’s memo.

Waiver requests will be decided by the Pest Management Advisory Committee. Violations of the ordinance will be handled by Rosenbach and Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette.

The “most practical approach” to violators, Rosenbach wrote, is to “help bring them into compliance through education and outreach.”

The ban will go into effect incrementally over the next three years: pesticides will be prohibited on city property starting May 1, 2017; on private property May 1, 2018, and on golf courses May 1, 2019.

Besides elimination of monetary fines, the final draft of the ordinance, which the council approved 6-1, with Councilor Linda Cohen opposed, differs minimally from what was initially proposed last year.

Most councilors said the ordinance language isn’t perfect, and it may be “rough around the edges,” Councilor Eben Rose said. But they agreed there is ample time to make adjustments, if necessary.

“We can’t … make improvements until we give it a shot,” Mayor Tom Blake said. “Tonight, this ordinance gets us into that room.”

The proposed law will not, however, prevent retailers from selling banned pesticides within the city. Cohen said the city’s ability to enforce the ban will be limited specifically because the products would still be sold in stores.

What if, she said, a neighbor sprays something toxic in their yard and it wafts into your yard? “This ordinance doesn’t prohibit that. We can’t enforce it. The only way to enforce it is to eliminate it from the stores, (and) we can’t do that,” Cohen said.

She also noted there is no rule in the proposed ordinance that requires neighbors to be notified if someone nearby has obtained a waiver to apply a synthetic pesticide on their property.

Enacting the ordinance without proper enforcement “lulls people into a false sense of security that they’re going to be a lot safer now than they were before,” Cohen said.

Members of the public who spoke were segregated into two groups: those employed in the turf or landscape management industry and advocated for a more middle-of-the-road approach, and those who said the impacts of pesticides are undeniable.

Tom Estabrook, owner of Estabrook’s Farms and Greenhouses in Yarmouth, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Integrated Pest Management approach, also referred to as “common-sense” practices, takes all possible measures into account when figuring out a best management system, including the goal of using as few synthetics as possible.

“I truly believe that this ordinance is completely one-sided,” he told councilors. “It does not leave room for the use of synthetics when needed. IPM does that.”

Phil Roberts, owner of Broadway Gardens, said everyone shares the goal of reducing pesticides, but the solution he sees fit is an IPM approach and includes a “blend” of organic products and “reduced-risk” products, including synthetics.

“We need to reduce all pesticides and not be in the marketing business for corporate-owned organic (pesticide) companies,” Roberts said.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.