MANATEE -- Manatee County has decided to postpone a public hearing on a local fertilizer ordinance until May, with the Florida Stormwater Association urging the county to back off of the issue.
“This was a delicate deal that had been reached, and they didn’t want 50 local governments trying to pile in to beat the deadline,” said Nicholas Azarra, the county’s legislative liaison. “They asked us to postpone the hearing until after the session.”
The House version of a bill regulating local fertilizer rules won approval last week, and a Senate version is still in committee.
House Bill 457, originally introduced to create a statewide fertilizer rule that local governments could not exceed, would allow some local fertilizer ordinances, as long as they do not include blackout dates or an outright ban on sales of certain fertilizers; as long as local governments can prove that their waterways are impaired; and officials can get approval from a task force appointed by the Legislature.
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Local ordinances that are in place before July 1 will remain in place under a grandfathering clause, which is why Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash urged the county to hold a public hearing on an already-drafted local ordinance. The county had planned to put the issue on the April 26 agenda for a public hearing until officials heard from the lobbyists.
Manatee County had been developing a local ordinance as a tool to prevent excessive nitrogen run-off into the area’s estuaries and bays. Excessive nitrogen in local waterways has been blamed for algae blooms.
The Florida Retail Federation, which has opposed local amendments that include blackout dates or outright bans on the sales of certain fertilizers, supports the latest version of HB 457 because of its “retail-friendly guidelines.”
Sally West, director of government affairs for the Florida Retail Federation, said her organization was concerned that myriad local ordinances would make it impossible for retailers to operate.
“We saw the possibility of having so many ordinances that it would eventually become virtually a nightmare for us to work with,” West said. “Our goal was to come up with a mainstream and uniform system.”
Of the 40 localities that have fertilizer ordinances, only Pinellas County implemented a sales ban. Other regulations include “blackouts” on when fertilizers can be used, but do not prohibit sales during those periods. While the retail federation preferred to have one standard across the state for the sale and use of fertilizers, it decided not to fight the grandfather clause negotiated into the bill.
“We feel like the compromise was a good compromise,” West said. “Ultimately, education will be the best tool.”
The bill approved Friday by the House:
n Includes the grandfather clause allowing local governments with fertilizer ordinances to keep them as they are written.
n Gives the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the exclusive right to regulate the sale and content of fertilizer sold in Florida.
n Requires that future local ordinances be based on “sound science and meet criteria established by the Urban Fertilizer Use Task Force.”
If too many local governments rushed to beat the July 1 deadline, government lobbyists feared that the grandfathering clause would go away, which would be bad news for Sarasota, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which all have fertilizer regulations. The worst-case scenario could be that every compromise, including the allowance of local laws for water quality protection, would disappear in favor of a state model, they said.
Jim Spratt, director of government affairs for the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association, said his members wanted to make sure there is consistency across the board.
“There needs to be consistency as a landscape professional,” he said. “There’s a jumping through hoops that isn’t best for the industry.”
While noting that at least 40 ordinances will be grandfathered, Spratt said, “we can operate in the world we’re in now and realize there is some consistency.”
After hearing from the Florida Stormwater Association, which represents local governments on water quality issues, the county decided to hold off on its public hearing until May 24, Azarra said.
McClash, who asked that the public hearing be put on the agenda, said he is leaving the timing up to the county administrator.