The town of Ogunquit last week became the first municipality in Maine to adopt an ordinance that bans the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers on private property.
There is one problem, though.
The town forgot to check with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control prior to the vote and was told two days later that proper procedure was not followed and the new ordinance was “void and of no effect.”
Michael Horn, chairman of the Ogunquit Conservation Commission, attributed the mix-up to an administrative glitch. He said he and others forgot to inform the town clerk, who was relatively new to her job, that she needed to contact the state regulatory board at least seven days prior to the vote.
The town also neglected to contact the board about the potential impact of the ban on commercial agriculture, which requires a 90-day notice prior to a vote, according to Henry Jennings, director of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control.
Since the ordinance that passed last week was not supposed to take affect until Jan. 1, 2015, Horn said he believes that the town has until then to remedy the problem.
However, whether the matter needs to go out to another townwide vote – which would be the third in two years – remains uncertain.
“The odds are that we won’t,” Horn said. “We think we can fix this with a simple amendment or correction. Because no one else has done this, the groundwork is not particularly clear.”
Jennings said the state board does not take opinions on local ordinances but said it’s possible that Ogunquit will instead have to adopt a policy, which is less official and unenforceable, instead of an ordinance.
Ogunquit, located in York County overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, is about 4.5 square miles and has a year-round population of about 1,200 people. However, the coastal community swells considerably in the summer months with tourists.
For years, the town has debated the use of pesticides.
In 2009, voters approved an ordinance that prohibited the use of synthetic pesticides on public lands. Organic pesticides were allowed.
Last June, town voters were asked to support a new ordinance that extended the pesticide ban to private property. It failed by a vote of 183-173, even though there was no organized group opposing the ban.
This year, the Ogunquit Conservation Commission brought a slightly watered-down ban back for another townwide vote. This time it passed, 206-172.
According to the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, 24 municipalities in Maine have adopted some type of ordinance that regulates the use of pesticides, but Ogunquit is the only town to extend a ban to private property.
The ban is not outright, though.
For instance, the original town ordinance that passed in 2009 did allow for the use of pesticides to control poison ivy on the Marginal Way footpath. Additionally, the Ogunquit ordinance approved last week allows the use of pesticides permitted by the Organic Materials Review Institute or the USDA National Organic Program. The town’s code enforcement officer also could grant waivers if a situation was deemed “emergency,” under the ordinance, which meant it posed an immediate threat to public health.
Violations would result in fines ranging from $200 to $2,500, depending on the scope of the illegal use.
The National Pest Management Association has weighed in on similar debates in other states and has maintained that a total ban would be highly unusual and likely unenforceable.
“It will lead to neighbors snitching on neighbors as a result of years-long vendettas,” Gene Harrington, the national group’s vice president, told the Press Herald last year.