June 13, 2013

Ogunquit would be first to ban pesticides outright

Residents will decide Tuesday whether to prohibit chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides on all local property.

Ogunquit could become the first community in Maine to impose a total ban on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.   

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The Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit, seen Friday, uses environmentally friendly means to tend its gardens. Ogunquit may ban chemical pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides to protect the town's natural resources.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Voters in the coastal community will decide at the polls Tuesday whether an existing ordinance that prohibits the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides on town-owned land should be extended to cover private property as well. If they approve it, Ogunquit would join just a handful of communities in the country that have taken such a step.   

So far, there has been little opposition to the proposal, said Michael Horn, chairman of the Ogunquit Conservation Commission. He said the commission reached out to landscapers and lawn service operators to alert them to the proposed ban, but no one showed up to oppose the measure at any of the three public hearings on the matter.   

While some in the pesticide and lawn care industry warn the idea may backfire, Horn said chemical companies didn’t appear to oppose the possible ban, either.   

“We are probably not big enough,” said Horn.   

The 4.5-square-mile town has 1,200 residents, although the number is closer to half that in the winter when the snowbirds have moved back to Florida.   

But some residents say the lack of opposition is due to the town’s strong sense of environmentalism.   

Ogunquit is one of only 25 communities in the state with a pesticide-control ordinance. It also has 11 restaurants and hotels certified as environmental leaders in the Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Business Certification Program, more than any other community in the state. The town also has a high municipal recycling rate – 49 percent compared to the 38 percent state average.   

“We are a green community,” said Karen Arel, president of the Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce.    Horn said the town’s unusual demographic profile might be part of the reason it takes pride in being green.   

“Our population is the oldest in the state and Maine is the oldest state in the country,” said Horn.    While health concerns are behind pesticide regulation in many communities, proponents in Ogunquit say the proposed ban is largely aimed at protecting the watershed and water quality in a town where tourism is the major economic sector. During a peak summer weekend, the town’s population surges to as many as 40,000 people, most of whom descend on the town’s 1.5-mile-long beach.   

Allyson Cavaretta, director of sales and marketing for The Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit, which won the Governor’s Environment Excellence Award this year for generating 70 percent of its energy from solar panels and recycling all of its trash, said the business community is very supportive.   

“It would be very hard to find anyone against it. We have a watershed, the beach and a lot of good things to take care of,” said Cavaretta.   

Various exemptions and waivers would be allowed under the extended ban. Poison ivy control on the Marginal Way, a public footpath along the water, is exempt under the current ordinance.   

Fines for violating the ordinance would range from $100 to $2,500.   

However, Code Enforcement Officer Scott Heyland, on the job for a month, said he hasn’t figured out how strictly the new ordinance would be enforced. “I don’t think we are going to be out running and chasing people. It is all very new,” said Heyland.   

Horn said he expects the enforcement will be a word-of-mouth process. “If you see a neighbor doing some spraying, you can say, ‘You know we got a law,’” said Horn.   

Horn said if the ordinance passes, the conservation commission will try to spread the word to summer residents with mailings, messages on the town website and through articles in newspapers and other media.   

Outside the small seaside town, meanwhile, there are critics of the proposal. State and national pest management and landscape associations say banning all chemical presticides, herbicides and fertilizers is not a good idea.   

Gene Harrington, vice president of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said a total ban would be highly unusual and probably unenforceable.   

“It will lead to neighbors snitching on neighbors as a result of years-long vendettas,” said Harrington.   

He said the Maine Board of Pesticides Control already does a good job regulating pesticides in the state. “It is better left to the folks in the state that have the resources and expertise,” said Harrington.   

Pesticides have already gone through a stringent regulatory process at the federal level, too, according to Harrington. He said people will resort to more desperate measures, which could be worse for the environment.   

“It sounds poorly thought through,” said Harrington.   

Don Sproul, executive director of the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association, which has 325 members across the state, said his group supports organic products and sustainable practices, but it does not support a total ban on chemical garden products.   

“You need to keep your options open,” he said.   

Sproul said one New Hampshire community that banned chemical applications on public property learned to regret it. He said the town ended up with a pest infestation on its high school athletic fields and had to shut them down for two years. “They spent several hundred thousand dollars as a result,” said Sproul. The Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association lauded the proposed ban. “It is bold for Ogunquit to be taking this on,” said Heather Spaulding, interim executive director.

Beth Quimby may be reached at 791-6363 or at: bquimby@mainetoday.com

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