South Portland may delay pesticide ban discussion

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city manager believes more work is needed on a proposed ban on the use of most synthetic pesticides.

The already delayed proposal had been expected to return to the City Council in June for a workshop and first reading.

But now City Manager Jim Gailey is recommending it be postponed again, perhaps until August.

Although the council will make the ultimate decision at its May 9 workshop, Gailey said Wednesday that he will recommend waiting until later in the summer so staff can rework the language and receive input from the city Conservation Commission.

Discussion of pesticide ban dates back nearly a year, to when councilors agreed last July to begin working with staff to draft an ordinance that would, in effect, prohibit or greatly reduce the use of synthetic pesticides on public and private property.

In a March workshop, as the draft of an ordinance began to take shape, councilors appeared to unanimously support the measure, which was drafted largely by Sustainability Coordinator Julie Rosenbach, stormwater program coordinator Fred Dillon, and Sarah Neuts, then acting director of the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department. 

The proposed ordinance prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides on public and private land throughout the city with a handful of exceptions, and advocates for a transition to organic products and practices.

In early April, while the council approved the draft ordinance in a first reading, questions and criticisms about the far-reaching implications of the ordinance were raised by some councilors and many members of the public. 

Several licensed pesticide applicators criticized the lack of options in the ordinance for integrated pest management, and advocated for a more middle-of-the-road option.

Others criticized the suggestion in the city’s proposal that all organic products and practices are good, while all synthetic products are bad. Still others questioned how such an ordinance would be realistically enforced by the city. 

Phil Roberts, owner of Broadway Gardens, said at the April 4 meeting that he tries to use organic products and practices as much as possible, but that there are also “newer, reduced-risk synthetic products” that mimic the organic ones and can still be used safely.

“This is not what we should be promoting,” he said, adding that learning how to effectively and safely apply synthetic pesticides when necessary is “way more important than the origin of the pesticide.”

A second reading of the ordinance was scheduled for April 20, but councilors elected to postpone it, due in part to staff absences. Councilor Patti Smith at that meeting said that it’s “really prudent that we are taking our time.”

The proposal, because it would be returned to the council likely with considerable changes, was scheduled to go back to a workshop June 13 before another first reading June 20. 

Gailey emailed staff Tuesday and asked them to “hit the pause button” instead of “stringing people along from postponement date to postponement date,” he said. 

A later deadline will allow more time to tweak the proposal, consider the criticism, and allow members of the Conservation Commission time to vet the language, likely in the first half of June, Gailey said.

Realistically, if councilors approve the postponement on Monday, the item would come before the council again, first in a workshop, in July or August, he said.  

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

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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.