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Daily News Blog

06
Jul

Norwalk, Connecticut Passes Ordinance Embracing Organic Land Management

(Beyond Pesticides, July 6, 2022) Norwalk, Connecticut last week passed an ambitious ordinance (see page 121) banning toxic pesticides and implementing pesticide-free management on all public spaces throughout the city. The move, championed by Common Council member Lisa Shanahan with strong support from other city leaders, as well as public health and conservation organizations, follows nearby Stamford, CT’s organic community ordinance passed last September. “It’s high time that we connected people and conscientious lawmakers—linking municipal pesticide bans to the interests of animal advocates, gardeners and conservationists, so that the hazards and risks of using pesticides both informs residents and changes public policies and practices,” said Priscilla Feral, president of the Connecticut-based animal advocacy organization Friends of Animal and founder of Pesticide Free Rowayton, organizations which both worked to gather public support for the ordinance.

Prior to the passage of the ordinance, Norwalk land managers were embracing the need to move towards safer approaches to land care, and responded to public requests to move in this direction. Pesticide Free Rowayton secured a pesticide-free lawn care program on six public parks, and city staff began phasing out glyphosate use. “Three years now we stopped using Roundup on our property,” Superintendent of Parks and Public Property (Recreation and Parks) Ken Hughes told the CT-based news site The Hour. “We never mass treated for weeds or insects.”  

The ordinance prohibits all pesticides on all Norwalk city property unless use is addressing poison ivy or specified in a Land Management Plan required to be developed by the Director of Recreation and Parks and the city’s Chief of Operations. The land management plan must embrace an organic systems approach to land care, including regular soil testing, the use of only organic fertilizers, careful plant selection, physical and biological controls, consideration of pest biology, and preventive practices that eliminate pest-conducive conditions.

If a situation arises where a city department wants to use a pesticide not specified in the land management plan, the ordinance establishes an interdepartmental pest management team to evaluate exemption requests. Allowances are approved only if there is an imminent threat to health, environment, or public safety, reasonable attempts have been made to address the problem without pesticide use, the pesticide will not impact water quality, and there is evidence the product in question has been proven effective against the pest or weed condition present. If an exemption is granted, the application must include a pest management plan to prevent re-occurrence of the condition using organic land management practices.

Local public golf courses are exempt from pesticide restrictions if they commit to following the Environmental Principles for Golf Courses in the United States. Both public golf courses and city land managers must deliver monthly reports to the Norwalk Common Council regarding pesticide use during the preceding month.

Norwalk’s ordinance does not allow exemptions for invasive species and does not differentiate between organic or non-organic pesticides, referring all exemption requests to an interdepartmental pest management team. The team is comprised of city staff and does not include any members of the public. However, through the monthly reports transmitted to the Common Council, both lawmakers and the public can maintain a close watch of pesticide use to ensure that the spirit and intent of the ordinance is fulfilled, and exemptions do not result in the regular use of toxic pesticides.

Along with nearby Stamford, Norwalk’s ordinance is critical to safeguarding Connecticut’s unique coastal environment and protecting water quality throughout the region.

“It’s in the best interest of the city and its residents to protect the ecological integrity of the Long Island Sound, Norwalk’s River and streams, and improve and protect water quality throughout our region,” Council member Lisa Shanahan told The Hour. “These lethal chemicals blindly kill and make no distinction between pests and beneficial insects and healthy organisms.”

These sentiments were echoed by others on the Common Council, including member David Heuvelman, who called the ordinance “a first big step for the city… I personally think this is one of the most important things that we as a community can do, especially a community geographically located where we are. The water is important, we need to preserve it, we need to make sure that we are shepherding our water supplies,” he said.

To discuss the importance of passing a strong city ordinance around pesticide use, Beyond Pesticides community resource and policy director Drew Toher joined with Sarah Evans, PhD, of the Ichan School of Medicine at Mt Sinai, and Richard Harris, of the CT-based conservation group Harbor Watch in a series of presentations to city leaders. According to local Norwalk news site, Nancy on Norwalk, Common Council member Nora Niedzielski-Eichner indicated the “quite comprehensive” presentations “changed my views about how our family does pest control.”

While many advocates wanted the Council to go further and extend the pesticide ban to private property, the Common Council is prohibited from doing so due to anti-democratic provisions in Connecticut state law known as pesticide preemption. However, as Norwalk is showing, public land care practices set an important example for city residents. The passage of local policies on public lands show a strong desire for communities to reclaim the authority to regulate toxic chemicals wherever they may cause unnecessary harm.

Norwalk’s strong pesticide ordinance brings it in league with the nearly 200 other local policies recorded on Beyond Pesticides’ Map of U.S. Pesticide Reform Policies. If you’re interested in joining communities like Norwalk and organizing your city, town, or county towards a similar goal, reach out to Beyond Pesticides by sending an email to [email protected]ides.org for one on one assistance and strategies you can use to eliminate unnecessary pesticide use where you live.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Hour, Nancy on Norwalk, Norwalk Common Council records

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