The Cape Elizabeth Town Council held a meeting for a public hearing on a citizen petition for a  residential pesticide use ordinance on March 1. The petition was filed on Feb. 10.

The petition garnered more than a thousand validated public signatures. By charter guidelines, the council must schedule a public referendum on the issue or enact the ordinance before the referendum.

The ordinance specifically targets the use of pesticides in residential properties and not commercial or municipal ones.

Richard Nick Bryant, attorney and principal drafter of the petition and ordinance, worked on behalf of Organic Cape. The local organization’s stated goal is to protect the public health and protect public resources of Cape Elizabeth.

Cape Elizabeth Town Council is holding discussions about residential pesticide use. Courtesy photo

The anonymity of the group led to some questions from the council about the identity of those involved, which Bryant said he was not at liberty to answer. However, Bryant said, the group will likely create a website soon that will answer many people’s questions. He also said the group is made up of local people and did not have a business-related interest in the ordinance.

“The important fact about pesticides, especially in residential uses, is that don’t stay where they are applied,” Bryant said. “They travel. Pesticides that are applied on one person’s lawn end up drifting over onto their neighbor’s property.”


Bryant said he drafted the ordinance not to be the final legislation on pesticides, but just to be a first step the council can expand upon.

“I drafted this ordinance to be imminently practical,” Bryant said. “So at this point, it’s designed to create a baseline for the town so as you decide to regulate different and more complex areas of pesticide application, that this will form a nice baseline for you to do so.”

Provisions were created in the documents for special permissions for pesticides that may be necessary in removing certain resilient invasive species.

“Timing is important,” Bryant said. “Organic Cape would prefer the council recognize the wisdom of this ordinance and adopt it itself rather than put it out for a public vote.”

Bryant mentioned that if the issue does go to public vote, that it should go in the June referendum, as pesticides are a seasonal issue.

About two dozen emails had already been sent to the council before the meeting, most of them in favor of the ordinance.


Local small business owner Erik Lema, part of whose job is managing invasive vegetation, spoke at the meeting.  “My concern is mainly that of unintended consequences of an otherwise well-intentioned ordinance,” Lema said. “This is something that I’ve seen in towns to the north of us, Portland, and South Portland in particular, where myself and other colleagues of mine — there are very few of us that do what I do, specifically just invasive plants — we just flat out refuse to work in those towns anymore because the ordinance is so comprehensive that its very restrictive for us to work in those towns.

“And the result is that a lot of these areas that are otherwise being infested by invasive species don’t get addressed at all anymore, because it’s very difficult for the average homeowner to actually take care of these plants on their own which is why they’re reaching out to us. And it’s one of the primary tools that’s being taken away from us, and I don’t think that was the original intent of that ordinance.”

Some speakers at the meeting expressed support for the ordinance, including Cape Elizabeth resident Nancy Ross. Ross is professor emeritus of environmental policy at Unity College, with a PhD in agriculture, food, and environment from Tufts University, former executive director of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, and has experiences in agriculture and conservation.

“Families that use pesticides have a childhood leukemia rate that is five times that of families that don’t use pesticides,” said Ross. “You heard about all the environmental problems associated with pesticide use. The biggest problem of pesticide use on lawns and private property landscapes is that it’s totally unnecessary. Any farmer will tell you, when they apply pesticides, they only apply them if they are needed and they use protective equipment and they set buffers, and they go through many, many steps to make sure that the pesticides don’t get off their property and are going to serve the use that they are needed for.”

Ross stressed that the residential and agricultural needs are very different, and that there is no need for residential pesticide use.

“None of those regulators is claiming that pesticides are safe. Because they can’t,” Ross said, on safety concerns. “You read the label, and it will tell you the details of all the possible harms that come from pesticides. They’re poisons. And the Maine pesticide law says to minimize to the maximum extent practical the use of pesticides. You, the town of Cape, has a wonderful opportunity to do that, by passing this ordinance.


“Of course, you can’t have enforcement and have the town police look at what’s happening in every yard. But just by passing this, it will be a huge educational move for the people of the town. I want to emphasize one thing again. The big difference between agricultural and home use of pesticides.”

Others spoke at the meeting, raising questions about how the ordinance will be enforced, protection from invasive plants, soil health, need for municipal restrictions, managing ticks, and wanting the public to be better educated on preventing spread of pesticides.

There was some debate on the safety of pesticide products at the meeting, with the proponents of the products’ safety to be mostly from pesticide applicators with related businesses.

Edward Cody, CEO of lawn service company Mainely Grass, said that in towns where a similar ordinance passed, they would usually be terminated as a service provider. Instead, the role would usually go to another company that ignores the ordinance and best management practices.

It was also pointed out that unlicensed private residents applying pesticides to their own properties often create ill effect due to incorrect application.

Bryant said the council has the authority to change the referendum once adopted, and that it can be made more comprehensive after the first step. He explained that municipal restrictions were excluded to make the ordinance easier to pass, with potential expansions happening later. He also mentioned that the ordinance provides for a code enforcement officer that can investigate if a neighborhood is concerned about someone using pesticides.


“I don’t think it’s particularly radical,” Bryant said of the ordinance. “It seems to me it’s a common sense first step, and the town really needs to take that first step.”

The council briefly discussed the ordinance, most wanting small changes to the language. The council also discussed the pros and cons of whether to put the matter in the June or November referendums.

Bryant pointed out that the town attorney can make small changes in the ordinance, such as for unclear definitions.

“One thing I’m not hearing is a lot of voices on the council that are ready to vote to adopt this ordinance as it’s currently written,” said council chair Jeremy Gabrielson. “Sounds like most folks are envisioning changes to definitions or potentially other changes with the ordinance.”

No action was taken in this meeting. The issue will be taken up again in the town council meeting on March 13.

“To sum up, we are looking to put an item on the agenda for the March 13 meeting. The proposal is that we would refer this to the Ordinance Committee and include on the March agenda a November date for the referendum,” Gabrielson said. He mentioned that putting the ordinance in the June referendum was still open for discussion as well.

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