South Portland seeks replacement for lawn-care company in dispute with state

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city is distancing itself from a lawn-care company that may have sprayed chemical pesticides on turf designated for organic care.

Purely Organic Lawn Care of York Harbor has been the city’s pest-control provider for the Wainwright Recreation Complex and the high school fields since at least 2008. Now, because of an investigation by a state agency, the city is looking elsewhere.

“We are exploring an alternative method of spraying the fields that doesn’t include Purely Organic,” Gailey said Thursday.

The company is accused by the state of several pesticide law violations. According to a recently released summary of a 2008-2010 investigation of the company by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, a state inspector found traces of a synthetic pesticide at Wainwright and on the company’s equipment.

The city hired Purely Organic for chemical-free pesticide applications.

“The question is what was sprayed on the turf,” Gailey said. “We thought we were heading in with some kind of organic fertilizer. We don’t know what we got.”

Jim Reinertson, founder of Purely Organic, this week denied his company sprayed chemical pesticides or fertilizer at Wainwright.

He claimed the sample taken from the turf was from a tract not handled by his company, and that the chemical traces were found on his equipment as his company transitioned from Turf Specialist LLC, a traditional turf management firm, to the organic model of Purely Organic. 

“At the time of their investigation, there were still residues of these chemicals on our trucks that were designated for these applications and, as such, analyses showed up positive,” he said in a letter to customers. “Our other trucks were designated strictly organic products.”

On March 7, Reinertson signed a consent agreement with the state, in which he agreed to pay $18,000 in fines for engaging in fraudulent business practices in the application of pesticides, based on the results of lab tests on samples taken at Wainwright, Colby College and on company equipment, plus other alleged  violations.

On May 11, the Board of Pesticides Control tabled approval of the consent agreement, “pending further research about its enforcement options,” according to Henry Jennings, the board’s director.

The agreement is not in effect until the board approves it. 

Reintertson said he was upset the board released the consent agreement before it was approved, because it could unfairly damage his business before a final decision is made.

His company dealt with these allegations in 2010, he said, and has since entered an agreement with the board requiring annual check-ins and changed business practices.

“This has been going on for two years,” he said. “This isn’t something new. We’ve been running our business since 2011 exactly the way the Maine pesticides board wants us to run an outfit. … We don’t have a blip on our radar, in our residential business. If you look at what we do transitioning customers from synthetic to organics, our record speaks for itself.”

But for Gailey, who admitted Wainwright “looks great,” there was too much uncertainty.

“We just want to take a step back away from this company, look at what the facts are, whether we got what we think we got,” he said. “We don’t really know what was sprayed at Wainwright with the exception of the information that was in that consent agreement.”

The city has no explicit contract with Purely Organic, so finding another turf care provider is simply a question of picking a new vendor, Gailey said. 

Gailey was also upset that the state hadn’t involved South Portland in any of its conversations. He said he knew that samples were taken at Wainwright two years ago, but had no idea the scope of the board’s investigation.

“I feel as though we’re caught a little off guard here,” he said. “There should have been a little more communication in the state of Maine as they were building their case. If they were using us as an entity in this case, they should’ve had the courtesy to tell us.”

Jennings, of the Board of Pesticides Control, said the board will reconsider the consent agreement at a future meeting. 

But Gailey isn’t waiting for a final decision. He said the city needs to “take a step back” and weigh its options.

“I’ll never say we won’t go with them again,” he said. “But we also want to make sure we have figured out, on our side, whether they’re the best vendor to go through.”

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.