SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council approved a first reading Monday of a revised cosmetic landscape pesticide ban, with several members describing it as a flawed but bold step to reduce chemicals in the environment.

The council voted 6-1 for a penalty-free ordinance that would prohibit the use of certain lawn-and-garden pesticides and herbicides on private and city-owned property.

“We’re making an imperfect leap, no question about it,” Councilor Claude Morgan said. “What we’re doing is leading and moving in a particular direction.”

Morgan and other councilors predicted that shortcomings in the ordinance would be addressed over time and hoped that residents would comply without punitive enforcement. A final vote on the ordinance will be held Sept. 7.

Councilor Linda Cohen provided the sole vote against the ordinance, saying it would be unenforceable and could give residents a false sense that they’re being protected from harmful chemicals.

Under the revised ordinance, retailers in South Portland could still sell banned products, including glyphosate-based Roundup, neonicotinoids and certain weed-and-feed applications. And residents could still buy them.

However, only pesticides allowed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and classified as “minimum risk” by the Environmental Protection Agency could be used within city limits. The local ban also would exempt commercial agriculture and playing surfaces at golf courses, and it would allow waivers for public health, safety and environmental threats, such as mosquitoes, poison ivy and invasive tree insects.

But rather than implement the ordinance in a “punitive way,” city officials plan to develop an education and outreach campaign to promote non-toxic land care practices and help the community comply with the ordinance.

As a result, the revised ordinance eliminates penalties. As first proposed, the ordinance called for escalating fines of $200, $500 and $1,000 per offense following an initial warning.

The revised ordinance also calls for the city’s sustainability coordinator, not police officers, to receive complaints, educate alleged violators to bring them into compliance and keep a public record of how complaints are resolved.

Among other changes, the revised ordinance clarifies the waiver process and prohibits pesticide use within 75 feet of water bodies and wetlands, including ponds, streams and drainage ditches.

And because some synthetic pesticides are allowed in organic methods, the revised ordinance also reframes its focus from organic-versus-synthetic pesticides to allowed-versus-prohibited pesticides.

Activists on both sides of the issue say South Portland’s effort could be copied by other communities across Maine and beyond. Portland residents and officials have been monitoring South Portland’s progress over the last year.

Supporters of the ordinance have noted that the EPA doesn’t require conclusive independent safety testing of pesticides and has acknowledged that it doesn’t know the full impact of many chemicals on humans or the environment.

Rachel Burger, founder and president of Protect South Portland, a group that has pushed for environmental action on several fronts, urged the council to support a move away from being at war with nature.

“Let’s work together at it,” Burger said. “If you give nature a chance, it will take care of itself.”

Opponents of the ban said it will confuse many homeowners who won’t know which chemicals to use and likely pit neighbors against one another. Several spoke in favor of integrated pest management, which promotes a controlled use of pesticides, whether organic or synthetic, that is most effective and least toxic to humans and the environment.

“I don’t favor the ordinance. I favor the smart use of pesticides,” said David D’Andrea, superintendent of the Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland.

If approved on a second reading, the ordinance would apply to city property starting May 1, 2017, and broaden to private property May 1, 2018. It would be reviewed during the third year for possible revision.

The ordinance would apply to the South Portland Municipal Golf Course and the privately owned Sable Oaks Golf Club starting May 1, 2019.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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