A long-debated plan to regulate pesticide use in Portland heads to a public hearing Monday evening, but city councilors will likely postpone action and continue the debate because of more than a half-dozen proposed amendments.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said last week that he will support putting off action on the ordinance and amendments until the next council meeting to give people, including a newly elected councilor, time to digest the proposal and all the proposed changes.

“I am ready to vote on the bill and amendments,” Strimling said. “But I am fine with giving folks a little more time if they need it.”

The ordinance recommended in October by the council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee differs drastically from the one drafted by a task force appointed by Strimling. It’s aligned more closely with an ordinance adopted by South Portland in August 2016, which prioritizes organic lawn care, emphasizes public education and empowers a committee – not the city manager – to grant waivers for synthetic pesticides.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who chairs the committee, said he will ask fellow councilors to adopt the committee’s ordinance without changes. He predicted the ordinance would continue to evolve after the council sees how the implementation goes in South Portland.

“I honestly think that is the strongest product,” Thibodeau said. “I think it’s a really important first step on restricting pesticides for the city, but it’s not the only step. It’s going to require more attention in the future and a good following of what’s going on in South Portland.”


Portland’s ordinance would ban the use of synthetic pesticides on public and private property in an effort to protect natural resources and public health. Organic pesticides would be allowed, as would synthetic substances listed as “allowed” in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances and other pesticides deemed to be “minimum risk” in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

It includes exemptions for “emergency situations and when an imminent threat to the health and welfare of the public exists.” Those include treatments for poison ivy, ticks and termites, among others. Other exemptions exist for so-called heritage elm trees; public rights of way; invasive pests such as browntail moths; Hadlock Field; and golf courses that are designed through Audubon International as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

The ordinance contains a waiver process, whereby a landowner can seek permission from a specially designated committee to use a prohibited pesticide. If the panel denies the waiver, the applicant would be able to appeal the decision to the city manager.

Properties treated with prohibited pesticides must be posted with signs that meet specific requirements in the ordinance.

The ordinance would take effect for public properties on March 1, 2018; private properties by Jan. 1, 2019; and high-use athletic fields by Jan. 1, 2021.

Violations of the ordinance could result in fines ranging from $100 to $500.


The city staff estimates that the ordinance could cost up to $700,000 to implement. The additional costs would be for new employees, equipment and up to a $250,000 set-aside to replace the turn on athletic fields.

The staff is seeking six amendments to the committee’s ordinance, according to a memo to councilors from City Manager Jon Jennings and Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon.

Those amendments would allow a city administrator to grant waivers, rather than the committee, for synthetic pesticide use; totally exempt high-use athletic fields; delay implementation on public property from March 1 to Jan. 1, 2019; eliminate the requirement that the city staff person serving on the Pesticide Management Advisory Committee be certified in organic land management; and add a sunset date of Dec. 31, 2023, for the ordinance, which could be extended by a vote of the council.

Portland Protectors, the anti-pesticides group that has been lobbying for a strict, pro-organic ordinance for about two years, opposes the staff amendments.

“All (of the amendments) would weaken the public health provisions and the public oversight,” said Avery Yale Kamila, the group’s co-founder. Kamila, who also writes a column for the Maine Sunday Telegram, said the group supports amendments being proposed by Strimling and City Councilor Pious Ali.

“If the City Council adopts the proposed ordinance – or better yet a further strengthened version – Portland will become a leading organic city,” she said.


One of Strimling’s amendments would prohibit the application of any pesticide, including organic and synthetic, within 250 feet of any water body or wetland. The other would empower a landowner or resident to appeal any waivers granted for the use of synthetic pesticides on a neighboring property.

And Ali said he may offer three amendments. One would allow only Audubon-certified golf courses to use prohibited pesticides on the tees and greens, while another would remove the exemption for invasive insects. His third would increase the number of people on the seven-member Pesticide Management Advisory Committee with organic credentials from three to four.

“Using synthetic pesticides to treat invasive insects is controversial, as seen in Freeport this year and Cumberland last year,” Ali said in an email. “In both cases there was a large public outcry after plans were announced to spray a synthetic pesticide on a brown-tail moth infestation. In both cases, plans were changed to use an organic-approved pesticide.”


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