HALLOWELL — The City Council narrowly voted last Monday to accept the first reading of a controversial pesticide ordinance.

Councilors also scheduled a public hearing for March 13.

Officials and residents in support of the ordinance cite the importance of protecting the environment and water in Hallowell, while those against it say it should be condensed and simplified. They also say they have questions about enforcement and take issue with the ordinance restricting what residents can do on their property.

Maine does not have laws restricting the use of synthetic pesticides on private property. The city, however, could enforce the ordinance through home rule authority.

About 30 Maine municipalities have pesticide ordinances, but only a few, including South Portland and Ogunquit,  have private property restrictions. Other ordinances do not apply to private property and, instead, restrict activities, such as aerial or mechanical spraying over woodlands.

The ordinance was introduced last August by Rosemary Presnar, chair of the Hallowell Conservation Commission.


Presnar cited multiple concerns with synthetic pesticides, particularly their impact to nearby bodies of water, such as the Vaughan Brook watershed and Kennebec River, and the harm they could cause to wildlife and the environment.

The City Council’s approval of the first reading comes after another narrow vote in December, in which the first reading was tabled.

Some of the major concerns behind the narrow votes are ensuring the public is aware of the ordinance, what it entails and how to address enforcement.

Councilor Kate Dufour, who voted against approving the first read at a meeting last Monday, said the city should first have a solid plan for public outreach and education.

“We need an eighth grade version of this ordinance,” Dufour said, “so that everybody understands it.”

Dufour said Hallowell should consider having staff members dedicated to enforcement, because the city’s code enforcement officer is already stretched thin with other duties. She said the point has been raised that smaller communities have similar ordinances. The model Hallowell is considering, however, is closer to what is on the books in South Portland, a significantly larger city.


“So if we’re moving forward, I’m going to repeat myself 150 times,” Dufour said. “We need a real educational program. We need staff that’s available, not only to educate the public, but to respond to claims that somebody is misusing or violating the ordinance.”

Dufour said Hallowell also needs to establish an appeals process.

“We’re talking about taking a right,” she said, “and if somebody can’t appeal that, then we have a real problem.”

Presnar suggested the City Council get educated on the ordinance before discussing it.

“If there’s one thing in the last two years that we’ve probably missed, it was to educate the council on the ordinance,” she said.

Councilor Michael Frett said he hopes the upcoming public hearing could result in a list of issues that could be brought to the ordinance rewrite committee or discussed during a special City Council meeting.


Frett said condensing the ordinance to “eighth grade language” could pose a significant challenge.

“Some of this stuff is just going to be what it is,” he said. “It’s a specialized area.”

Frett also said Doug Ide, the city’s code enforcement officer, has been involved with the ordinance from the start, and has said enforcing the new rules is manageable.

Councilor Ryan Martin said the City Council has received plenty of feedback from both sides. He suggested bringing the feedback to a public hearing and possible amendments that address people’s concerns.

“The (ordinance rewrite committee) did a great job with this,” Martin said. “There was a lot of back-and-forth. I know folks were really in the tranches to produce something, so I think we should be working off of that, not sending it back to the committee to rehash the same thing.”

Councilor Berkeley Almand-Hunter said there should be a summary document highlighting the rules because residents are not likely to read a several-page ordinance before working on their lawn.


“I think people are less likely to comply if they’re expected to read this entire document,” Almand-Hunter said.

Presnar said nobody has looked at the 5 1/2-page ordinance because it has not been required, which is the point of having an ordinance force a change in habits.

She added that two elementary school teachers edited the ordinance multiple times over two years, and they are open to working on the document and considering amendments.

Almand-Hunter and Dufour said they would be in favor of a workshop at which the City Council could go through each part in the ordinance, while considering all of the public comments.

Councilors also approved holding a public hearing during the March 13 meeting, and City Manager Gary Lamb said officials could have multiple hearings, if necessary.

“There can be multiple public hearings,” Lamb said. “They can also be conducted, not closed, and extended into another meeting. You can have as many as you want.”

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