More than two dozen people urged city councilors on Wednesday to pass a strong ordinance that bans the use of pesticides in Maine’s largest city, but they were split about the best approach to take.

About 30 people addressed the City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, which held its first hearing on two anti-pesticide ordinances – one adopted by South Portland and another drafted by a Portland task force appointed by Mayor Ethan Strimling after more than a year of work.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who chairs the committee, said the goal was to draft an “enforceable and strong pesticide ordinance” that could be presented to the council in the fall, which may not be easy.

“This is a complicated issue,” Thibodeau said.

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

Many speakers urged the council to adopt South Portland’s ordinance because it applies to all land in the city and allows for fewer waivers to use synthetic pesticides. Others spoke in favor of the task force ordinance, because it would ban all pesticides and include fines for violations.

Portland’s task force is recommending an ordinance that Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, who chaired the task force, described as a hybrid proposal based on South Portland’s ordinance, which encourages the use of organic techniques and products, and Integrated Pest Management, a practice advocated by pesticide applicators.

“This draft ordinance I think takes strong action to protect the environment and the public,” Mavodones said. “Clearly it prohibits the use of all pesticides in Portland with the exception of a fairly rigorous waiver process.”

ENFORCEMENT MECHANISM INCLUDED

South Portland’s ordinance focuses on educating residents about the benefits of building up soil health organically, which may include the use of organic products that are less harmful than synthetic products. An oversight committee is drafting a list of organic products that would be allowed.

The ordinance proposed by Portland’s task force also calls for education, but it would ban both organic and synthetic pesticides. Unlike South Portland’s ordinance, which lacks an enforcement mechanism, Portland’s would allow for fines ranging from $50 to $500 for each violation.

The task force ordinance would apply to lawns, athletic fields and parks, as well as patios, driveways and walkways. It would not apply to trees. South Portland’s ordinance covers all areas, including trees.

The task force ordinance allows for waivers to control invasive plants or to protect public health and safety. But applicators would have to explain in writing the nature of the emergency, and all other means used to address the problem. The city manager or his designee would have three days to respond.

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

South Portland’s ordinance also allows for waivers, but they are limited in scope, whereas Portland could grant waivers as long as “safety, economic or aesthetic thresholds are met.” But those thresholds are not defined.

The task force 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.

Many of the speakers on Wednesday came prepared to support South Portland’s ordinance.

“If it’s good enough for our neighbors across the bridge, it’s good enough for us,” said Kellogg Street resident Joey Brunelle, who is running for City Council.

WARNING ABOUT UNINTENDED EFFECTS

However, the Friends of Casco Bay, a nonprofit environmental group based in South Portland, endorsed the ordinance put forward by the task force.

Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, who served on the task force, said Portland’s proposal is stronger because it bans all pesticides and carries penalties for violations.

“We don’t see that allowing organic applications is the answer to curbing cosmetic dependence on these chemicals,” Ramsdell said.

Kathy Chapman, an organic farmer, said she was concerned that banning organic pesticides would include vinegar.

“Vinegar could be considered an organic pesticide because it kills weeds,” Chapman said. “I would like to still be able to use that.”

Some members of the landscaping industry warned about unintended consequences of banning pesticides – namely that residents would break the rules and misapply pesticides rather than relying on professional companies.

“The city makes no attempt to curtail the sales of pesticides in the city,” said Robert Mann, of Lawn Dawg. “The ordinance does nothing but force the trained professional applicators from the marketplace.”

Other residents, like Karen Snyder, who keeps bees and tends organic gardens on Munjoy Hill, chose not to endorse one ordinance over the other, instead urging the city to adopt the best ordinance possible.

“We need to have a strong ordinance – South Portland’s ordinance and beyond – because I want my bees to live.”

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

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