South Portland to propose pesticide restrictions

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors Monday agreed to work with city staff to draft an ordinance by late November that would restrict the use of pesticides.

City residents, along with a handful of people from at least five other municipalities, filled the council chambers at Monday’s workshop, which was the second time councilors have discussed banning pesticides.

Of the nearly 40 people who addressed the council, most favored a ban. About a dozen others suggested moderate restrictions via an Integrated Pest Management Program, and only a handful opposed restrictions. 

Maine is one of only nine states and the District of Columbia that allows municipalities to place restrictions on the use of pesticides, City Manager Jim Gailey told the council.

Most participating municipalities in Maine use some variation of IPM or Organic Land Management programs that rely on “prevention, monitoring and control.” IPM principles are also referred to as “common-sense” practices, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and require a management system tailored specifically to each location. 

In Camden and Rockport, the use of pesticides in public parks is prohibited. Other areas along the coast, like Harpswell, prohibit the application of insect growth regulators and other insecticides that could adversely impact aquatic vertebrates.

Other towns near bodies of water, like Wayne and Standish, restrict the storage of pesticides within the shoreland zone. 

Pesticide restrictions in Ogunquit are the most extensive in the state: all outdoor applications of pesticides on public and private land are prohibited, with a handful of exemptions, according to a memorandum from Gailey. 

Some of those exceptions include drinking water and waste water treatment, noxious growths and invasive species, and general health and safety purposes that may arise, such as an uptick in Lyme disease, and federal- or state-mandated applications of pesticides. 

On a smaller scale, Ogunquit exempts commercial agriculture in its ordinance, along with insect and outdoor animal repellents, aerosol products, and swimming pool and pet supplies. 

Councilor Claude Morgan recommended that the city begin with Ogunquit’s ordinance and “lay it out flat and start adding and subtracting” to tailor a law that best fits the city’s needs.

“I think this community is actually ready to make the segue into banning pesticides, and I don’t think this is a rather large leap at all,” Morgan said.  

While he finds “some appeal” to the possibility of an IPM program, it seems “more of a philosophy than it is a practice,” Morgan said. “I don’t think that philosophies make for great ordinances.”

He suggested the city begin with an “outright ban on personal property (and) all city property,” with a phase-in period of one year. Golf courses and “indoor plant incubation sites” would get longer phase-in periods, like six years, Morgan said. 

Not all councilors supported an outright ban with few exceptions, yet all agreed some level of restriction should be implemented. 

A handful of residents affiliated with local golf courses and turf management urged the council not to adopt an outright ban.

“The city’s health, safety and economy is at risk by banning all pesticides,” said Richard Lewis, superintendent of Willowdale Golf Club in Scarborough. 

Lewis recommended that the city implement an IPM system to control disease-carrying insects, like ticks and mosquitoes, that would otherwise threaten the “health and safety” of residents.

For the last three years, “Maine has reported some of the highest Lyme disease numbers in the country,” and without pesticides, “the town of South Portland will be at risk,” he said.

But most believed the adverse effects of pesticide exposure outweigh the possibility of contracting Lyme disease or West Nile virus. 

Andy Jones, speaking on behalf of the local grassroots group Bees, Bays and Backyards, told the council “every day, more studies are linking pesticide exposure to health problems, like cancer and Parkinson’s.”

South Portland has the support from surrounding municipalities to pass a pesticide ban, Jones said.

“Portland is looking to us, Scarborough is cheering us on,” he said. “But last and most important, you have the support of the residents who look forward to a healthier city with safer air and cleaner water.”

The council is slated to hold a third workshop on the issue by the end of the fall. 

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.