Brewster Select Board Postpones Pesticide Regulation Petition

by Rich Eldred

BREWSTER – The proposed home rule petition for pesticide reduction has been pulled from the Brewster spring town meeting warrant after the select board declined to place it by a 5-0 vote, instead tabling it for discussion in the fall.

The proposal was met by a fusillade of opposition from all three golf courses in town — Brewster-owned Captains Course, Cape Cod National and Ocean Edge — as well as lawn care companies and the Brewster Whitecaps, who worried they wouldn’t be able to maintain playable turf if the petition was eventually adopted into law by the state legislature.

Orleans approved an identical petition at their town meeting last year with 68 percent of the vote. This spring Harwich, Dennis, Eastham and Wellfleet will deal with similar articles.

“We kept the language the same to show a strong front in the legislature. Orleans has passed this,” proponent Laura Kelley of Eastham told the Select Board. “It is not a ban. There are specific exempted pesticides. We followed [the] Massachusetts [Department of Agriculture] allowed list. So pesticides are allowed with this reduction.”

The article requests special legislation from the General Court so the town can adopt home rules on pesticide use. The rules would permit natural materials (such as organic pesticides permitted for crop production by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), synthetic materials permitted for organic crop production and labeled for turf use by the U.S.D.A. and permitted pesticides under the federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act section 25B. Also permitted would be indoor pesticides, ones used on pets such as flea collars etc., insect repellants, products for eliminating indoor mold and pesticides for use at nurseries and agricultural enterprises.

Kelley noted outdoor pesticides travel.

“If you give a rodenticide to a mouse, sometimes it ends up in an owl,” Kelley said. “This is just to allow this to be on the town warrant.”

If the article had been approved, the state legislature would still have to approve it because pesticide use is regulated by the state, not at municipal level.

Golf course superintendents were against the proposal. Colin Walsh, superintendent of Captains Course, said the article would ban synthetic pesticides limiting the course to using organics.

“You’ve gotten my letter,” he told the board. “That sums up where we stand. The [organic] alternatives are not useful on a golf course. The quantities we’d need would be cost prohibitive. What we use is regulated by the EPA already. We are professional applicators.”

“Cape Cod National uses a well designed integrated pest management program,” Superintendent Eric Strzepek said. “Cape Cod National has reduced fertilizer use and reduced 15 acres of turf on our own. Orleans has no golf courses.”

Board member Cindy Bingham noted the article exempted agriculture and nurseries from the rules and said if golf courses were exempt she might support it.

James Ritorto, the director of agronomy at Ocean Edge, said the petition wasn’t backed by science and golf course use of pesticides was already regulated by the EPA and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection with rules set by experts.

“We have to ensure the playability and maintenance of Whitecaps Field,” said Alton Cole, vice president of facilities for the Brewster Cape Cod League baseball team. He said he spent 30 years in turf management. “We only use two pesticides, one for crabgrass control and one for grub control. With this we would not be able to maintain the playability of the field. I oppose it without any question whatsoever.”

Stephanie Ellis, the director of Wildcare, was in favor of pesticide reduction.

“We see secondary poisoning by rodenticides in nearly every large hawk or owl we see,” she said. “A study a few years ago said we’ve lost three billion birds worldwide and 67 million die every year from pesticides. Birds are the best rodent and insect control, and with pesticides we are eliminating their food source. I’d like to limit pesticides and bring the birds back.”

Kelley noted that the language of permitted pesticides was taken from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR).

“Please read the fine details. They are in there,” she said.

Town Manager Peter Lombardi noted that the rules might also impact the in-town operations of Cape Cod Mosquito Control.

“We had a week and a half to look at it,” he said of the article. “We’re not folks with degrees in turf management. There are also questions on how Nickerson State Park would be impacted.”

The select board opted to postpone action on the proposal until the town could hold public informational hearings and study the ramifications.

“The reason that this board deferred action is because we hadn’t had time to review it in a lot of detail,” Lombardi said afterwards.

"I am shocked the Brewster Select Board didn't allow an opportunity to reduce pesticides in their town,” Kelley said via email. “This HRP was crafted with a lot of thought and care by town boards in Orleans. It is simple and to the point. Exterior pesticides need to be regulated. It costs the town and taxpayers nothing, why wouldn't they allow this onto the town warrant for citizens to vote on it?”