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County considering summer fertilizer ban

MANATEE — Manatee County homeowners could one day be banned from using fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus, or both, on their lawns during the rainy season.

County officials said Tuesday they are working on a proposed ordinance that would regulate fertilizer use in hopes of reducing pollution in Tampa Bay and other water bodies. They’re working from a model ordinance, developed by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, that contains the June-through-September ban.

“This (model ordinance) will be the template we’ll start with, and we’ll take into account the latest information and bring back an ordinance that suits Manatee County,” Rob Brown, the county’s environmental protection division director, told county commissioners during a work session.

But officials said Manatee’s ordinance, which likely won’t be ready for commissioners to consider until late this year, could differ from the model.

“Each county has the authority to modify it, so it’s not a mandate,” said Commissioner Joe McClash, who sits on the estuary program’s policy and management board.

Among other things, the model ordinance calls for using as little fertilizer as necessary; prohibits applying fertilizer within 10 feet of any surface water or the top of a seawall; and bans putting grass clippings that may contain fertilizer residue into drains, ditches, water bodies and roadways.

It also has the four-month ban on fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that some scientists blame for contributing to red tide outbreaks. Homeowners — the model ordinance exempts farms, golf courses and active grazing land — still could use fertilizer that doesn’t contain nitrogen and phosphorus during that period or apply fertilizer beforehand that slowly releases those nutrients during the summer.

The potential ban already has drawn interest from landscaping interests, two of which lobbied commissioners Tuesday.

Erica Santella, a regional technical manager for TruGreen, urged commissioners to adopt the state’s model ordinance. That would ban using fertilizer only when heavy rain is forecast or during flood, tropical storm or hurricane watches or warnings.

If commissioners include a summertime ban, there also should be an exception for homes that have been sold after sitting empty for a long time, said Tom Fields, a senior sales associate for Arrow Environmental Services Inc. in Sarasota.

He and George Pickhardt, the company’s owner, also said steps should be taken to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from yards irrigated with reclaimed water. They also said any county ordinance should carry penalties for violations.

“A little enforcement is needed to get a little attention,” Pickhardt said.

Sarasota County and Longboat Key already have the summertime ban. Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are considering their own versions of the estuary program’s model ordinance, said Holly Greening, the program’s executive director.

She also reported that “Tampa Bay is getting progressively better.”

The bay has met federal water-quality standards for three consecutive years, sea grasses have grown by 6,000 acres since the 1980s and a record number of bay scallops were counted last year, she said.