June 13, 2013

Ogunquit narrowly defeats plan to ban lawn chemicals

- By RANDY BILLINGS

Staff Writer

OGUNQUIT - Residents on Tuesday narrowly defeated a proposal to make the community the first in the state to ban the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides on private property.

The measure was defeated by only 10 votes, 183-173. Nineteen voters left the question blank.

Michael Horn, chairman of the conservation commission, was surprised by the result.

"It's kind of disappointing because we didn't get any negative feeling back," Horn said.

There was no organized opposition to the proposal heading into the election, though the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association and the National Pest Management Association weighed in against the ban when asked by a reporter. Residents attributed the lack of opposition to the town's environmental ethic.

Ogunquit is one of only 25 communities in the state with a pesticide-control ordinance that applies to public land. 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.

Only 375 of the town's 1,114 registered voters cast ballots at Dunaway Community Center in Ogunquit on Tuesday.

Voters seemed attracted to the environmental and health benefits of the ban, but concerned about private property rights. Jim O'Connell, a 73-year-old retired electrical engineer, said he felt the ban was trying to accomplish something good, but that it reached too far and was a bit "like using a sledgehammer on a nail."

He was also concerned with how the ban would be enforced.

"I mean if somebody sneaks out in the middle of the night and spreads a bunch of pesticides, who's gonna catch them?" O'Connell asked.

While health concerns are behind pesticide regulation in many communities, proponents in Ogunquit say the proposed ban was largely aimed at protecting the watershed.

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.

Various exemptions and waivers would have been allowed under the extended ban. Also, emergency waivers could have been requested if a pest situation presented an immediate threat to public health or substantial property damage. Fines for violating the ordinance would have ranged from $100 to $2,500.

The town's code officer was not immediately sure how the ban would have been enforced. But the conservation commission had planned to spread the word to summer residents with mailings, messages on the town website and through articles in newspapers and other media.

Now it appears the commission will regroup and focus its efforts on more educational outreach about the pitfalls of chemical pesticides, in hopes of one day re-introducing the ban.

"It's feasible. I guess it's going to take a measure and a half of educating the people and I think we will continue to do it," Horn said.

Karen Antonacci contributed to this story.

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

rbillings@mainetoday.comNOTE TO READERS

BECAUSE OF TECHNICAL problems, this story did not run in its entirety Wednesday. We are reprinting it here today.

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