A public forum Monday night to discuss organic pest management on town property in Scarborough is billed as an educational gathering, but it could end up being a platform for opponents to let town officials know just how bugged they are by the move away from synthetic pesticides.
In 2011 Scarborough adopted a policy that largely prohibits the use of chemical pesticides to control insects and weeds at schools and on playing fields.
“There are people who are very, very passionate on both sides,” said Town Manager Tom Hall. “And, we’ve had one year’s experience, so there hasn’t been enough time to assess success.”
The Scarborough conservation commission, the town’s pesticide management advisory committee and members of the grassroots organization Citizens for a Green Scarborough are hosting the event, which they hope will be an introduction to the policy for residents not yet familiar with the program.
But the forum also is being viewed by some residents as a potential faceoff between supporters and opponents of the policy.
“We know there is concern about the policy, but our job is not to be confrontational,” said Susan DeWitt Wilder of Citizens for a Green Scarborough. The group “is concerned that there is some resistance,” she said, but “we want to keep it friendly.”
The town’s pesticide management advisory committee also wants to make sure that “we’re meeting the expectations of the policy,” DeWitt Wilder said.
Hall said there was strong opposition to the policy when it was first proposed in 2010. “And there certainly still are some detractors,” he said.
Under the policy, the town must avoid synthetic pesticides, except under conditions deemed to constitute an emergency or preventable crisis, such as public health problems transmitted by insects, including West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). Those problems prompted spraying in some other Maine communities last summer. Scarborough has invoked the emergency provision twice, but in both instances — ultimately decided by the town manager — the issue was not about health risks. Each chemical application was an attempt to eradicate grubs that were destroying turf on athletic fields, said Hall.
Last summer, he said, it was the town’s bad luck to institute the policy during what turned out to be “the worst season in modern history for grubs.” The pests were so prevalent, “we were at risk of losing our (athletic) fields,” Hall said. “The use of synthetic pesticides helped reduce the grubs, but were not 100 percent successful.”
With the ordinance, Scarborough has taken the position that eliminating pesticide use wherever possible on town land “is in the best interest of public health.” But the ordinance goes a step further by encouraging “reduction and elimination of pesticide use on private property” as well.
The town policy states that “all pesticides are toxic to some degree and (their) widespread use is both a major environmental problem and a public health issue. Federal regulation of pesticides is no guarantee of safety.”
The debate over the policy may be occurring in part because Scarborough is “a little ahead of the curve” on using organic methods of pest control, Hall said. “This issue is sweeping the country,” and many people are not sure yet where they stand, he said.
That indecision is another impetus for the forum, which will include a presentation by a national pesticide activist about how organic methods can best be used under a variety of conditions.
The forum is open to the public and will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Scarborough Town Hall at 259 U.S. Route 1.
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