MANATEE -- An hours-long debate and a divided vote left practically everyone holding their noses as county commissioners passed a watered down fertilizer ordinance that is slightly stronger than the state’s, but does not include a summer sales ban.
Environmentalists and lawn care professionals packed the county commission chambers Tuesday afternoon to sway commissioners’ opinions on a fertilizer ordinance that is designed to decrease nitrogen runoff into the county’s waterways. Ultimately the goal is to improve water quality throughout the Tampa Bay region.
Environmentalists and citizens asked commissioners to approve one of the most stringent ordinances in the state, a model of the Pinellas County ordinance that bans summer sales of certain types of fertilizers and prohibits the application of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorus to lawns and landscape plants from June 1 through Sept. 30.
Lawn care professionals asked the county to simply adopt the state’s model ordinance, which includes neither sales bans nor such stringent fertilizer application and management provisions.
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Proponents said the stricter ordinance is a quality-of-life issue designed to create cleaner waterways that are attractive to tourists and could lead to greater populations of fish and birds.
A few industry professionals touted the ordinance, saying it saves money and cuts down on insects. Several proponents said summer sales bans have also benefited more local businesses who create the kind of fertilizer mixes that are less harmful to the waterways.
David Schulmeister, of Gainesville-based Green Technologies, bragged about his company’s GreenEdge fertilizer blends and donated a bag that was “made in Manatee.”
Industry advocates said there is no science showing that lawn fertilizers add to polluted waterways and that certified professionals follow best management practices that prevent pollution in waterways.
Erica Santell, a technical manager with TruGreen, even offered photographic evidence showing bright green grass on the top of a lawn, compared to grass on an embankment that was less saturated in color.
“Fertilizer, when properly applied, does not move when it rains,” Santell told commissioners.
Commissioners debated the ordinance and offered several versions, including one that SMR Farms brought as a substitute ordinance. Commissioner Larry Bustle offered the ordinance to be adopted, but county attorneys warned that it might not meet the state’s requirements.
In the end and after extended debate, the county commissioners split the decision. They decided to remove a sales ban from the county fertilizer ordinance, but left in the restrictions on fertilizer applications in the summer months.
The ordinance they adopted in a 4-3 decision is less stringent than the one in Pinellas County. Commissioners Bustle, Robin DiSabatino, Donna Hayes and Carol Whitmore voted in favor. Joe McClash, Michael Gallen and John Chappie opposed.
The county brought the issue to a public hearing this month because some board members wanted to consider adopting a sales ban. Under new state legislation, any local fertilizer ordinances that included sales bans must be in place before July 1.
While county commissioners decided against implementing sales bans, Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s director of natural resources, is creating an educational program for citizens that will include signs for retailers offering tips and advice for fertilizer use on lawns.