SOUTH PORTLAND — The city is closer to becoming the second community in the state to adopt wide-reaching restrictions governing the use of pesticides on public and private land.
At a workshop Monday, with the Council Chambers full, every councilor supported a draft ordinance, which Julie Rosenbach, sustainability coordinator for the city, called “bold but realistic” in a memo to City Manager Jim Gailey.
Approval of the ordinance still requires a first and second reading. It isn’t expected to come before the council for a first reading until the end of March or the beginning of April, Gailey said.
According to the Maine Board of Pesticide Control, “the use of pesticides for residential land care has increased nearly sevenfold” over the last 20 years. Maine is one of only seven states that allows municipalities to place restrictions on the use of pesticides.
The City Council directed staff last July to come up with an ordinance that “greatly reduces and potentially eliminates the use of synthetic pesticides,” Rosenbach said.
While a handful of municipalities around the state have varying levels of restrictions, most of which govern public land, the council opted last summer to follow Ogunquit, whose ordinance is the most prohibitive and restricts all pesticide applications on both public and private land.
A team of city staffers was selected to research and draft the ordinance. They included Rosenbach, stormwater program coordinator Fred Dillon, and Sarah Neuts, who is the acting director of the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Wepartment.
In general, the provisions of the ordinance would prohibit synthetic pesticides “unless specifically permitted.”
“Organic products are permitted unless specifically prohibited,” according to the memo.
The draft ordinance is intended to reduce synthetic pesticides while encouraging the transition to more “organic land care practices,” Rosenbach said.
Outreach and education about the ordinance, which wouldn’t go into effect until May 2017, will fall to a Pesticide Management Advisory Committee.
The ordinance pulls from several sources, including the National Organic Program.
While “the science regarding risks associated with synthetic pesticides is not settled, there are enough studies linking these products to reproductive disorders, birth defects, learning disabilities, neurological disease, endocrine disorders and cancer to warrant a ban with minimal exceptions,” Rosenbach said.
Exemptions in the ordinance for the use of synthetic pesticides include a situation where there are no viable organic alternatives available, or if public health or safety is at risk. The municipal golf course and all potential golf courses in the city would be exempt, considering there are “few (if any) examples” of golf courses that aren’t being managed with some sort of synthetic pesticide, according to the memo.
Most councilors suggested that the municipal golf course not be exempt from the ordinance.
“I don’t see how we can be requiring the public to follow this ordinance, but exempting our own city-owned golf course,” Councilor Brad Fox said. The golf course, Fox said, should become a model of pest management.
“It does seem to me like we’re giving ourselves a pass,” Councilor Claude Morgan agreed.
But Mayor Tom Blake said, “One thing I like about this ordinance is that it’s flexible. This is a work in progress.”
There “aren’t a lot of templates out there for us to go by, so we’re kind of inventing something new,” Blake said.
Several members of the public criticized the draft ordinance for not offering the option of integrated pest management, as well as the far-reaching nature of the ordinance language.
Richard Varney, who owns Advanced Pest Control, said he felt “disenfranchised.”
He criticized the council and staff for not seeking adequate input on the other side of the issue from those in the pest management field.
The council was on a “freight train to do what they wanted,” and they really weren’t interested in speaking to anyone who didn’t do it their way, Varney said.
What will actually end up happening as a result of the prohibitive ordinance, he said, is people will cut corners and there will be a lot of “misapplications” of synthetic pesticides. It will be “counterproductive to what everyone wants here, (which is) less pesticides,” he said.
Ralph Blumenthal, operations director for Atlantic Pest Solutions, said what bothers him is the “potential” to pit “citizen against citizen in South Portland.”
“I’m not sure why someone should be able to tell me what I can use on my private property,” he said. “If I wanted to use something on my lawn, I feel I should have the right to do it, as a citizen.”
Mike Hughes, a master and and consulting arborist, said the ordinance is “unreasonable because it creates an unbalanced approach to pest management.”
“Using organic controls exclusively” will only help a small majority of the community’s trees and insects, he said.
Councilor Linda Cohen said she would be open to a more integrated pest management approach, “but South Portland doesn’t tend to do anything gradual like that.”
Others praised the city as a trailblazer.
“Thank you very much for taking this up,” Paul Drinan, of Portland, told councilors. “I know it’s a bold move. There are people, I know, that will not be happy about it.”
Irving Williams, of Bayview Avenue, addressed councilors while holding up a photo of his grandson, Harvey. “I, as his grandfather, want him to grow up in a pesticide-free community,” he said.
To the dissenters, Morgan said, “Other communities aren’t here with us yet, but believe me they will be in a decade.”
“I think the main reason we’re doing this is for our children,” Blake said. “South Portland needs to lead by example. This is an opportunity for all of you to jump on board and be a part of the future.”