After more than a year of study, Portland officials will hold a formal public hearing this week on a proposal to restrict the use of pesticides in Maine’s largest city.

The City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday on an ordinance drafted by a task force appointed by Mayor Ethan Strimling, as well as on a set of restrictions enacted by South Portland.

“I don’t like pesticides. I think they’re awful. I want to limit them as much as we can,” said City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who chairs the committee. “We’re going to come up with the strongest one we possibly can that doesn’t create an administrative burden on staff.”

If the ordinance is enacted, Portland would join 27 other municipalities in Maine that regulate pesticides, some of which have been known to cause health issues, including cancer, and degrade marine life.

The measure will likely generate robust public debate. Proponents of South Portland’s ordinance, which allows organic pesticides and bans synthetic pesticides, are organizing against the ordinance created by the Portland task force.

Avery Kamila is the co-founder of Portland Protectors, which supports a pro-organic land-care ordinance like South Portland’s. Kamila was one of 12 members of the task force, which also included commercial pesticide applicators, scientists and residents. She was the only task force member to vote against the ordinance forwarded to the council’s sustainability committee.

Kamila, who writes a column for the Maine Sunday Telegram, has criticized Strimling’s task force as being dominated by pesticide applicators. She is concerned that Portland’s ordinance would treat organic pesticides the same as synthetic pesticides and give the authority to grant waivers to the city manager, rather than a citizen oversight committee.

She is also concerned that there are no standards – particularly for encouraging the use of organic methods and products – codified in the ordinance, like South Portland. Instead, it will be up to the oversight committee to establish a threshold for when waivers will be granted to allow pesticide use. The lack of a robust educational campaign promoting organic lawn care is also a concern, she said.

“The pesticide industry is very effective at crafting its own regulations and it’s happening right here in Portland,” Kamila said.

However, Portland’s proposed ordinance appears to be more strict than South Portland’s, in that it bans both organic and synthetic pesticides. It also includes an enforcement provision, including fines ranging $50 to $500, for violating the ordinance.

The ordinance, forwarded by a 10-1 vote, with one member absent, would apply to lawns, athletic fields and parks, as well as patios, driveways and walkways. It does not apply to trees.

Waivers could be sought to control invasive plants or to protect public health and safety. But applicators would have to explain in writing the nature of their emergency as well as all other means used in an effort to address the problem. The city manager or his designee would have three days to respond.

Before getting a waiver, the applicator will first have to try other turf care practices, such as mowing high, leaving lawn clippings, top-dressing compost and proper irrigation to address the issue.

“You can’t get a waiver because you don’t like dandelions,” said Troy Moon, the city’s sustainability coordinator, who staffed the committee.

The ordinance would establish a seven-member oversight committee of Portland residents, consisting of two licensed pesticide applicators, two environmental professionals and three at-large representatives who do not fit in the two aforementioned groups. The oversight panel would create a public education campaign about safe use of pesticides and draft an annual report detailing the amount and types of pesticides used in the city.

Wednesday’s meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the council chamber at City Hall.

Thibodeau, a real estate lawyer, had considered recusing himself from the discussion, since his law firm previously represented pesticide applicators. But Thibodeau said Verrill Dana no longer represents Mainers for Greener Communities and the city attorney has informed him that he no longer has a conflict of interest.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings