About a dozen people told the Portland City Council on Monday night that they favor proposed restrictions on the use of pesticides.

Councilors decided to postpone a vote on the ordinance and several amendments to give people time to digest the proposal and the proposed changes. The next council meeting is Jan. 3.

A majority of those who testified Monday said a half-dozen amendments suggested by city staff would weaken the ordinance, such as including a sunset date of 2023. Among them were members of Portland Protectors, the anti-pesticides group that has been lobbying for a strict, pro-organic ordinance for about two years.

“This is going to inspire and educate a lot of other ordinances that will be developed for this, so I think it’s our responsibility as the largest city to put forward one of the strongest in the state and in the country,” said Maggie Knowles, one of the co-founders of Portland Protectors.

A couple of speakers asked questions about what would be covered by the ordinance. One opponent was a representative for a national trade organization for specialty pesticides. Riley Titus, state affairs manager at RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), said pesticides are already regulated by the state and federal governments.

“I think everyone wants a clean and safe community environment and the ability to maintain their own property,” Titus said.

The ordinance discussed Monday, recommended in October by the council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, differs drastically from the one drafted by a task force appointed by Mayor Ethan Strimling. The committee’s version is 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.

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.

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 turf 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.

Strimling and other councilors also offered amendments to the proposed ordinance, which were supported by Portland Protectors.

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.

Cathy Ramsdell, executive director of the Friends of Casco Bay, applauded Portland’s efforts to curb pesticide use in the city.

“There are only a handful of cities nationwide who have been bold enough to try and do that,” Ramsdell said.

“Please remember your work is not done,” she added. “Fertilizers have to be next.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at:

[email protected]