SOUTH PORTLAND — A revised, penalty-free version of a so-called cosmetic pesticide ban won strong City Council support Monday night.

Councilors acknowledged a lack of conclusive data linking certain lawn-and-garden pesticides to health problems in humans or the environment, but a majority said they’re willing to “err on the side of caution” absent adequate testing and enforcement by the federal government.

“This is about as good a compromise as you’re gonna get,” Councilor Claude Morgan said. “I don’t see how we do it better at this point.”

Linda Cohen was the only councilor among seven who spoke against the revised ordinance, which she called unenforceable. Rather than “inflicting” the ordinance on citizens and asking them to report on each other, Cohen said the council should pass a resolution and fund an education campaign to encourage voluntary compliance.

The council took no action at Monday’s workshop; a first of two votes on the ordinance will be held Aug. 15.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit the use of certain lawn-and-garden pesticides and herbicides on private as well as city-owned property. Retailers in South Portland could still sell the targeted products, including glyphosate-based Roundup, neonicotinoids and weed-and-feed applications. And residents could still buy them.


But 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.

The revised ordinance acknowledges that enforcement would be challenging, especially on private property, in part because soil testing wouldn’t be practical or conclusive, according to Julie Rosenbach, the city’s sustainability coordinator.

“Our intention is not to approach implementation of this ordinance in a punitive way, but rather to use education and outreach to promote non-toxic land care practices and help the community to comply with this ordinance,” Rosenbach wrote in a memo to the council.

As a result, the revised ordinance calls for the 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.

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

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 vs. synthetic pesticides to allowed vs. 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 officials have announced plans to follow South Portland’s lead if it succeeds.

Expert speakers and city activists noted Monday night 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.

“I’m sure you’re going to pass (the ordinance), so I’ll thank you in advance,” said Paul Cunningham, a city resident. “We’ve got far too many chemicals in our ecosystem.”

But opponents said South Portland’s proposal remains largely unenforceable and liable to divide neighbors into warring camps of scofflaws and watchdogs. Some 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.

“There are better ways to approach it than what’s in front of you today,” said Jim Cohen, a Portland lawyer who represents Mainers for Greener Communities, a group of arborists, landscapers and nurseries.

If approved, 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.


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