SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council unanimously approved a first reading of a partial pesticide ban Monday night that would limit what chemicals property owners can use to control lawn and garden pests in the city.
The proposed ordinance would prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides on city-owned and private property, but it wouldn’t apply to pesticides permitted in organic farming or exempted from federal regulation.
The council approved the proposed ordinance while asking city staff to recommend amendments on how it would be enforced and how waivers could be granted in a more timely fashion, among other issues, before the council takes a final vote.
“This is a giant step for our community,” Mayor Tom Blake said. “It’s important that we get it right.”
The City of Portland is expected to consider adopting South Portland’s ordinance if it wins final approval.
The council heard both opposition and support from residents and representatives of lawn care companies, garden centers and golf courses.
Some opponents questioned how the ordinance would be enforced and suggested that it would push some property owners to break the law and pit neighbors against each other.
“How are you going to enforce my putting down some chemical on my lawn?” asked Albert Dimillo, a city resident. “This is just an absolute joke.”
The ordinance would be phased in over three years, promoted by a Pest Management Advisory Committee and enforced with fines levied by the city’s code enforcement officer.
Golf course representatives urged city officials to incorporate integrated pest management into the ordinance, using a combination of synthetic, natural and organic pesticides that limits the overall use of chemicals.
“We do care about the environment and we do care about public health and safety,” said Robert Searle, president of the Maine Golf Course Superintendents Association and superintendent of the golf course at the Abenakee Club in Biddeford Pool.
Rachel Burger, founder and president of Protect South Portland, a group that has been pushing for environmental action on several fronts, spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“Nature, the way it is, if left alone, does very well,” Burger said, adding that pesticides can destroy soil microbes and promote weed growth.
The ordinance would apply to city property starting May 1, 2017, and broaden to private property May 1, 2018. It would be reviewed during the third year for possible revision. Following an initial warning, violators would face escalating fines of $200, $500 and $1,000 per offense.
The ordinance would apply to the municipal South Portland Golf Course and the privately owned Sable Oaks Golf Club starting May 1, 2019. Playing surfaces on the private course would be exempt from the ban, while tees and greens on the municipal course would be exempt for three years after adoption.
“Because the maintenance of tees and greens is especially critical for the sport, we recommend including an exemption for these two areas on the municipal course while organic pilot projects are phased in,” Julie Rosenbach, the city’s sustainability coordinator, said in a memo to the council.
The ordinance wouldn’t halt the sale of synthetic pesticides, or their use in commercial agriculture, or to kill poisonous plants and biting, destructive or disease-carrying insects.
The proposal doesn’t specifically name pesticides that would be allowed or prohibited; it would prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides other than products allowed by the Organic Materials Review Institute or exempt from regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
It would, for instance, prohibit most property owners from using glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer.