A ban on the use of synthetic pesticides on residential properties is headed for the ballot this year in Cape Elizabeth.

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council is expected to decide Monday whether to schedule a referendum for the June or November municipal election.

The referendum is the result of a successful petition drive last month calling for the residential ban of synthetic pesticides, along with the prohibition of the use of any type of pesticide – organic or otherwise – on properties within 75 feet of a body of water or wetlands. The ordinance would not apply to retail, commercial agricultural or public-owned properties, such as parks, schools and municipal buildings.

The petition drive was organized by the volunteer-driven group Organic Cape and received 1,888 signatures within a week, according to Richard Nick Bryant, who drafted the ordinance proposal for the petition. Certified signatures totaled 1,049, clearing the threshold of 10%, or 885, of the town’s registered voters needed to put the referendum on the ballot.

Organic Cape’s goal “is to protect the public health and protect the public resources of Cape Elizabeth from pesticide pollution,” Bryant said at a Town Council public hearing last week.

“Pesticides applied on one person’s lawn end up drifting over to the neighbor’s property,” he said, and stormwater runoff can send pesticides into nearby bodies of water.


In addition, pesticides pose a health risk, especially for children who may come in contact with harmful pesticides unknowingly while playing outside, he said.

The Town Council received over two dozen emails about the proposed ordinance in advance of last week’s public hearing, with about 70% in favor of it, councilors said. Emails received in opposition were “largely from folks in the landscaping business,” said Chairperson Jeremy Gabrielson.

Resident Erik Lema, who owns a small business that specializes in invasive plant management, said he hasn’t taken a position on the proposed regulations but has concerns about their unintended consequences.

“That is something that I’ve seen in towns to the north of us – Portland and South Portland in particular,” Lema said. “Myself and other colleagues … flat out refuse to work in those towns anymore because (their pesticide ordinances are) so comprehensive.”

Synthetic pesticides are the strongest way to fight damage-causing invasive plants, he said, and some cannot be controlled if the pesticides aren’t used.

Bryant said the Cape Elizabeth proposal includes a provision to allow residents to request a waiver for cases when a prohibited pesticide is deemed necessary.


He also said that most of the local pesticide regulations adopted in more than 30 municipalities in Maine “are more comprehensive than what is proposed” for Cape Elizabeth.

“It’s a baseline approach,” he said.

Organic Cape would like the Town Council to “recognize the wisdom of this ordinance and adopt it itself, rather than putting it out for a public vote,” Bryant told the council. Barring that, a vote in June would be better than one in November because “this is a seasonal matter,” he said.

The council has the option to enact the ordinance without putting it out for a vote, but most councilors said they would prefer putting the ordinance on the November ballot. They need time, they said, to draft amendments to the “baseline” ordinance as written to tweak the language, flesh out how it will be enforced and wrap up other details.

They also said enacting new regulations mid-summer could lead to confusion for residents who regularly use synthetic pesticides.

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