2015-07-31 / Front Page

Speakers make argument for, against pesticides

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland City Council has committed to adopting limitations on the use of pesticides within city limits, charging city staff with bringing an ordinance for it to consider as soon as late November.

The move follows a recent push by Protect South Portland, which has recently turned from tar sands to other environmental concerns. Since successfully maneuvering the council into adopting a ban on diluted bitumen — a ban the city is now fighting to protect in court — Protect South Portland has evolved from a loose affiliation of likeminded neighbors into an actual nonprofit. The formalization of its purpose has not diluted its punch, however, as two recent council sessions on its pesticide proposals have been packed to the rafters. At a July 13 workshop, Mayor Linda Cohen had to turn audience members away at the door after council chambers hit its maximum occupancy rating under city fire codes.

Claude Morgan, one of three councilors elected last year with backing from Protect South Portland, had perhaps the strongest view on pesticides use, suggesting at the July 13 meeting that the council should institute an outright ban on the use of all pesticides in South Portland. Morgan said such a ban could be phased in over one year on city-owed and private property alike, while certain sites, including the golf courses and garden centers, might get as much as six years.

Morgan said South Portland should model its pesticide restrictions on those in Ogunquit, said to have the tightest regulations of any municipality in the state.

“We should just lay it out flat and start adding and subtracting,” he said.

“I think this community is actually ready to make the segue into banning pesticides, and I don’t think this is a rather large leap at all,” Morgan said.

Nearly 40 people spoke at the July 13 workshop, with most echoing Morgan’s view. Even when limited to two minutes per speaker, the parade of opinion more than rivaled some of the lengthier tar sands sessions, consuming more than 90 minutes of the meeting.

“It is beyond the time when we need to take action,” said Priscilla Skerry, a naturopathic doctor practicing in South Portland. “The evidence is mounting that environmental toxins affect neurological, immunological and hormone systems. There’s really not much doubt about that.”

“Every day, more studies are linking pesticide exposure to health problems, like cancer and Parkinson’s,” said Andy Jones, of the local grassroots group Bees, Bays and Backyards.

“The food we eat is supported by bees that are living in a system that relies on an enormous amount of pesticides,” said Thompson Street resident Phil Gavin, a beekeeper who owns The Honey Exchange in Portland. “Beekeepers around the world feel like we are fighting a losing battle against the pesticide companies.”

A few, however, suggested a lighter hand, noting the growth of tick-borne Lyme disease and West Nile virus, carried by mosquitoes, over the past few years.

“The town of South Portland will be at risk (without pesticide use),” said Richard Lewis, superintendent of Willowdale Golf Club in Scarborough, one of several residents of neighboring towns drawn to the July 13 workshop.

“You have nothing to fear from me or the products we use. We take our responsibility as professional applicators very, very seriously,” said Bob Mann, director of training at Lawn Dawg, who described himself as “the skunk at the garden party tonight.”

“I believe that we need to address many issues with the environment, but a ban is the wrong approach. It won’t work the way its supporters think it will,” said David Domingos, owner of South Portland-based Northeast Lawn and Golf services. “Turf management is an incredibly complex process that requires as many tools as possible, because Mother Nature is always reminding us that she’s in charge. We need a structured approach, rather than an across-the-board ban.”

Like Domingos, a number of people at the workshop supported passage of an integrated pest management program, similar to the one adopted in Scarborough that favors prevention, monitoring and control, allowing the use of organic pesticides using management plans tailored to each application site.

However, Morgan, like most in the audience, dismissed that notion.

“That’s really more of a philosophy than it is a practice, and I don’t think philosophies make for great ordinances,” he said.

While not all councilors were prepared to go as far as Morgan, all seven were unanimous in agreeing that some form of pesticide restriction needs to be put in place.

According to City Manager Jim Gailey, the council will schedule a third workshop on the topic once it has a draft ordinance in hand.

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