South Portland Passes Revised Pesticide Ban

Penalties to now focus on education, as opposed to monetary fines; city's sustainability coordinator to enforce, not the police.

As reported by the Portland Press Herald, the City Council of South Portland, ME, voted 6-1 to approve a revised landscape pesticide ban. The City Council had been mulling over the idea of a pesticide ban since June 2015.

Under the revised ordinance, retailers in South Portland could still sell banned products, including glyphosate-based Roundup, neonicotinoids and certain weed-and-feed applications. And residents could still buy them. However, only pesticides allowed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and classified as “minimum risk” by the Environmental Protection Agency will be allowed to be used within city limits. The local ban also will exempt commercial agriculture and playing surfaces at golf courses, and it will allow waivers for public health, safety and environmental threats, such as mosquitoes, poison ivy and invasive tree insects.

Additionally, the revised ordinance eliminates penalties. As first proposed, the ordinance called for escalating fines of $200, $500 and $1,000 per offense following an initial warning. Now the law calls for the city’s sustainability coordinator, not police officers, to receive complaints, educate alleged violators to bring them into compliance, and keep a public record of how complaints are resolved. City officials also plan to develop an education and outreach campaign to promote non-toxic land care practices and help the community comply with the ordinance.

The lone City Council dissenter said she supports the overall intent of the ban, but said she doesn’t see the point in passing laws that will not be enforced. Three other Council members said the Council may revisit the ordinance and add enforcement measures after the city has gathered data on local pesticide use.

More details on the new ordinance are outlined below.

April 8, 2016 — The City Council of South Portland, ME, has unanimously approved the first reading of a proposed pesticide ban that, if ultimately voted into law on April 20, would begin being phased in over a two-year period starting in May 2017.

The law, referred to as the “City of South Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance,” is designed to safeguard the health and welfare of residents, and to conserve and protect the City’s waterways and natural resources. To that end, as stated in the proposed ordinance, the City would strive to make organic turf, landscape and pest management the primary management tool in the community for turf, landscape and outdoor pest management activities so that synthetic pesticide use and its damaging effects on the health and welfare of residents and the environment are significantly curtailed.

The proposed ordinance cites what it refers to as an increasing body of evidence that synthetic pesticides have detrimental effects on both human health and the environment.

BACKGROUND. Back in June 2015, the South Portland City Council listened to a presentation put together by Protect South Portland, a grassroots group of community volunteers, on the use of pesticides. Protect South Portland was joined by Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides, organics expert Chip Osborne, and Mary Cerullo of Friends of Casco Bay, a marine stewardship organization.

About one month after seeing the presentation, the City Council voiced support for pursuing a pesticide ordinance. A committee was created to conduct research and draft initial language. That draft was presented and discussed at a workshop on February 26. Staff then continued to work on the proposed ordinance for the following month. The City Council conducted an initial reading at its meeting on April 4, unanimously approving that initial reading. A second reading and request for action is now set for April 20.

HOW THE BAN WILL WORK. The proposed pesticide ordinance will apply to both public and private land. A Pest Management Advisory Committee (PMAC) will be established to oversee the implementation of the ordinance, and to provide monitoring and advise on the ordinance’s efficacy. The PMAC will comprise seven people: the City stormwater program manager, the Parks superintendent or designee, two licensed landscaping professionals (one with expertise in organics), and three residents or taxpayer representatives.

The phase-in dates of the pesticide ordinance will be as follows:

  • May 1, 2017 for public land
  • May 1, 2018 for private land
  • May 1, 2019 for golf courses (more on this later).

EXEMPTIONS: Numerous exemptions exist for the proposed ordinance:

  • Synthetic pesticides classified as exempt by the EPA (i.e. minimum-risk pesticides)
  • Commercial agricultural products
  • Pet supplies, such as shampoos and tick and flea treatments
  • Disinfectants, germicides, bactericides, miticides and virucides
  • Insect repellents
  • Rat and rodent control supplies
  • Swimming pool supplies
  • Aerosol products
  • General-use paints, stains and wood preservatives and sealants

Exemptions also exist for a variety of health and safety purposes, i.e. poison ivy, biting and/or disease-carrying insects, animals and insects that could cause damage to a structure, and certain invasive pests such as emerald ash borer (EAB). In these instances, residents must apply for a waiver which is reviewed by the PMAC.

In other words, there are acceptable uses for synthetic pesticides when the health and safety of the public is in question. But if you want to use pesticides to make a lawn pretty, there is a better approach to take: organics. As the proposed ordinance states: The use of synthetic pesticides is not necessary to create and maintain green lawns and landscapes, given the availability of viable non-synthetic alternative practices and products.

Golf courses also made their way onto the exemption list. South Portland’s public course will be allowed to utilize pesticides on tees and greens. South Portland’s private course, Sable Oaks Golf Club, will be allowed to use pesticides on tees, fairways, roughs and greens.

The rationale is that organic practices are not likely to work well on golf courses. Because of the precise maintenance needs of a golf course (i.e. very low grass heights), turf areas are more susceptible to disease. Furthermore, very few examples of organically managed golf courses exist. Those courses that do utilize organic practices, such as the course at Martha’s Vineyard, have displayed ongoing turf issues, a letter from South Portland’s Sustainability Office states.

Finally, the City of South Portland says it has difficulty in attracting golfers to its nine-hole municipal golf course, and can’t risk severe damage to said golf course while undergoing “experimental” organic land care practices. Municipal golf course staff will continue to act in a way that significantly limits pesticide use, the City’s Sustainability Office assures.

NO BAN ON RETAIL SALE. "This ordinance, which is still in draft form, will not affect the sale of pesticides in any way, just the use," says Julie Rosenbach, sustainability coordinator for South Portland. "This is because while we expect to significantly reduce the amount of synthetic pesticides in our community, there will be applications allowed through exemptions and waivers."

WAIVERS, REPORTING & FINES. For instances when synthetic pesticides are allowed (through an exemption or the waiver process), the ordinance includes a detailed section that requires both licensed applicators and private citizens to post signs notifying people of the use of synthetic pesticides.

Additionally, all licensed applicators will be required to submit an annual report to the City summarizing the type and quantity of synthetic pesticides used.

Violators of the new pesticide ordinance get one warning. A second offense carries a $200 fine. A third offense is $500. Any violations after that carry a $1,000 fine. It will be the duty of the Sustainability Coordinator, for whom the Police Department and Code Enforcement Officer shall provide investigative assistance, to administer and enforce the provisions of the ordinance.