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by Jonathan Thomas
Brooksville voters filled the meeting room of the Public Service Building on February 3 for an informational meeting on three ordinances that relate to blueberry spraying, local food production, and cell towers. They will have a chance to continue these discussions at a formal public hearing on Thursday, February 17, before they are voted on by secret ballot on March 7 as part of the annual town meeting.
Following the informational meeting, the town’s ordinance review committee met and voted not to recommend adoption of any of the three ordinances. According to committee member Sarah Cox, the decisions not to recommend were reached by majority votes among the eight members of the 12-member committee who were present. (The other four members were out of town.)
Selectman John Gray opened the February 3 meeting, asking resident Robert Vaughan to serve as chairman. Vaughan has often served as town meeting moderator.
The first ordinance to be considered is entitled “Town of Brooksville Aerial and Air-carrier Blueberry Spraying Ordinance.” Though it was only two pages long, it generated an hour of discussion, as much or more time as the other two ordinances combined.
According to its preamble, the ordinance seeks to protect the town’s water table and drinking water supplies, as well as the Bagaduce River watershed and the wildlife dependant on that river system.
To do this, the ordinance would “prohibit all aerial and air-carrier spraying of blueberry fields in the Town of Brooksville.” Aerial spraying is defined as “the application of pesticides by a flying aircraft.” Air-carrier spraying is defined as “the application of pesticides by a powered ground vehicle.”
The definition of pesticides includes insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and “substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant or desiccant; and any nitrogen stabilizer.”
There would be a $1,000 fine for a first violation, and a $2,500 fine for subsequent violations.
The ordinance was submitted by a citizen petition to the selectmen for inclusion on the town meeting warrant.
University of Maine wild blueberry specialist David Yarborough opened the discussion by speaking in opposition to the ordinance. He said there are insect, disease, and weed problems that require treatment through chemicals that are applied by spraying.
Resident Basil Ladd said he is a blueberry grower, and also works with crop insurance programs. He said he has not sprayed in recent years, but that farmers need to have the ability to do spraying if necessary to remain eligible for insurance payments in case of crop losses that might have been preventable.
Costas Christ identified himself as a certified organic farmer for the past 10 years. He said he has not sprayed his crops for 27 years, and that his fields are thriving and the market for his products is good. However, he said he could not support the ordinance because it addresses the methods of application rather than the toxicity of the chemicals being applied. He said the focus should be on toxic chemicals that are subject to drift, and that the ordinance did not recognize that organic farmers might want to apply non-toxic substances that are not harmful to the environment.
Speaking in support of the ordinance, Jody Spear said the two largest growers in Washington County had stopped aerial spraying of pesticides in 2005 when they were threatened with legal action for violations of the Clean Water Act. Spear also cited the health hazards of different chemicals, and said that commercial beekeepers will avoid locations where certain chemicals are used.
“We are introducing this ordinance,” said Spear, “because we are faced with a health hazard. Spraying chemicals from the air that drift onto people and into our waterways is barbaric.”
Presenting the other side of the issue, blueberry grower and processor Simeon Allen said he spends many hours studying what is going on in the regulatory process. He said his company abides by state rules, and uses state-licensed applicators who do the best they possibly can. Allen said he doesn’t like having to spray, and spending the tens of thousands of dollars that it costs, adding, “We’re not out to try to hurt anybody.”
In response to several questions, Vaughan and Cox said that because this ordinance had been presented by a petition signed by 75 registered voters, it was not possible for the ordinance review committee to make any substantive changes to it prior to its being presented at the hearing on February 17.
In its written report to the selectmen following the informational meeting, the ordinance review committee cited the following as reasons for not recommending enactment of this ordinance: “(1) it infringes on the economic viability of farmers, (2) it is too broad, and (3) it does not seem to adequately address the specific issues.”
The local food ordinance
The second ordinance discussed at the meeting is entitled “The Town of Brooksville Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance.” The preamble of the four-page document reads, “We, the People of the Town of Brooksville, Hancock County, Maine, have the right to produce, process, sell, purchase and consume local foods thus promoting self reliance, the preservation of family farms, and local traditions.”
The purposes of the ordinance include “Provid[ing] citizens with unimpeded access to local food,” and “Support[ing] the economic viability of local food producers and processors.”
In the “Statements of Law” section, the ordinance continues, “Producers or processors of local foods are exempt from licensure and inspection provided that the transaction is only between the producer or process or and a patron when the food is sold for home consumption.
As “Authority” for its position, the ordinance cites sections of the Declaration of Independence, the Maine Constitution and a section of Maine statutes, which according to the ordinance, “grants municipalities all powers necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the Town of Brooksville.
The ordinance also states “it shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state for federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this ordinance.”
Ordinances similar to Brooksville’s are being considered in several other area towns, a coordinated effort that will be reported on in a coming issue of The Weekly Packet.
At the meeting February 3, one of the early speakers was state representative Ralph Chapman, a Brooksville resident. He said he considers the ordinance a “great idea” and would support it. He said that if it were enacted by Brooksville and several other towns, it would get the attention of more legislators, and increase the likelihood that corrective action would be taken at the state level.
In the extended discussion that followed, several people praised the fact the ordinance would support a trust between the local growers and their local customers. Others expressed concern that some method of recourse would always be necessary in the event of a problem with a product. Some speakers described the abuses that were already occurring when federal and state governments preempted local rights relating to food production, preparation, and direct sales to local patrons
Selectman Darrell Fowler said he is concerned about the town’s liability exposure. Someone pointed out a section of the ordinance requirs a public meeting that would explore options for dealing with matters of preemptions by other levels of government, so that selectmen would not be forced to take action against the will of townspeople.
The ordinance review committee voted not to recommend enactment of this ordinance for the following reasons: “(1) although we favor the concept, this is not the proper tool, (2) it is unenforceable as state and federal laws on food preempt local ones, and (3) it opens the Town to potential liability issues and legal costs.”
Cell tower ordinance
The evening’s third ordinance, which would regulate cell towers, was prepared by the town’s ordinance review committee pursuant to the town’s enactment of a cell tower moratorium ordinance at the special town meeting on October 4, 2010.
(The two competing moratorium ordinances considered at that meeting were drafted in the wake of the controversy over two towers already under construction. See October 7 issue of The Weekly Packet.)
A draft copy of the 17-page cell tower ordinance available at press time provides for planning board review of tower applications, limits tower height to 190 feet, requires a detailed visual assessment of the tower, and makes the owner responsible for removal costs if the tower is abandoned.
In the brief discussion of this ordinance, John Kimball said he was concerned that provisions requiring co-location of other antennas on the new U.S. Cellular tower would make it more unsightly than it already is, and suggested changes that would improve the review process.
The ordinance review committee listed the following reasons for recommending against enactment of this ordinance: “(1) it infringes on private property owners’ rights, (2) it adds an unnecessary burden on the CEO and Planning Board for enforcement, and (3) it is not necessary.”
These proposed ordinances are in addition to the two recently approved at the January 27 special town meeting: a wind power moratorium ordinance, and another ordinance authorizing participation in a federal/state energy efficiency loan program.