A big change could soon take place in your backyard if South Portland’s proposed ordinance on pesticides is finalized.

The City Council has proposed an ordinance that would mandate the use of “organic-only” pest and weed control on private and public property – banning all other pesticide use. While the intent – to be more environmentally friendly – is a good one, the real issue is that a total ban takes away all of the useful tools we all count on to protect our families and private property.

By using; the precautionary principle – the idea that a product should be treated as dangerous until scientifically proven safe – as the foundation for the ordinance’s creation, the council is setting a precedent that allows them to ban anything they want, all in the name of sustainability. This is dangerous because it disregards the rights of the private citizen and the expertise of any business being targeted.

I live in South Portland. I’ve been in the turf industry for more than 25 years, and I practice integrated pest management every day.

I work with my customers to educate them about integrated pest management approaches they should practice and to help them find the right program for their property and expectations. They are always asking “Why?” and “What for?” so the educational component of our service is very important. This should be the foundation of the ordinance – not an all-out ban.

Integrated pest management is a comprehensive approach that allows the use of all tools available to identify, monitor and control a problem. As a professional, I was trained to build a turf grass system from the soil up with cultural programs, and then apply fertilizers and pesticides on top as needed – not the other way around.

The ordinance does not leave us with products that work on problems like grubs or with an opportunity to take an integrated approach.

We use products in moderation and only as needed. The products we use and those available to consumers at hardware and home stores are low-risk and can be applied safely.

I believe that both organic and synthetic products have a place in our yards and parks, but we need to be able to choose both types of products for our pest problems. Right now, there are a minimal number of organic products that are somewhat effective at controlling disease-carrying insects and invasive and allergy-causing weeds. There are absolutely none that control the grubs and insects that cause severe damage to turf.

Without synthetic pesticides, there’s no effective way to protect your lawn. Grub problems lead to animals tearing up lawns to eat the grubs, which means a ruined lawn and a lot of money spent to repair it.

In all my years of business, I haven’t seen an organic-only program work the way people think it will. Our neighboring town of Scarborough tried an all-organic approach, and it experienced a major grub issue, forcing it to go back to synthetics to take care of it. It also saw a nearly threefold increase in the budget to maintain city property.

Like all South Portlanders, I want a healthy and safe environment for my family and my neighbors. It’s important we move forward together and amend the proposed ordinance. There are more common-sense first steps we can put in place before we consider an all-out ban on the products we count on to protect our personal and shared property. One example is education on proper use.

Another could be to set up a city-owned property as an organics-only test plot for three to five years. While this is going on, educate the public regarding the products and cultural programs being used, their associated costs and why there is a difference in turf quality. At the end of the trial, hold an assessment workshop, which can be then be used as the foundation for a more common-sense ordinance and one that includes an integrated pest management approach.

Please let the South Portland City Council know that this ordinance is the wrong way to address the issue at hand.

David Domingos is the owner of Northeast Lawn & Golf Services in South Portland.

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