State Politics

Fertilizer rules up for discussion

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission is slated to review a model ordinance banning summer use of nitrogen-based fertilizers in urban areas.

But bills filed in the Florida Legislature, should they pass, could void any local rules the commission might pass.

Commissioners plan to consider a measure March 22 that would ban use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and/or phosphorus, according to Rob Brown, environment protection division manager for the county Department of Natural Resources.

Brown noted the Tampa Bay Estuary Program developed the model ordinance because rainfall washes such fertilizers into the water, causing algae growth and ecological damage to bays, lakes and rivers.

“It’s there for water quality protection,” he added.

State legislators have filed bills that would override stricter local ordinances like those already adopted by Manatee’s neighbors, Sarasota and Pinellas counties, officials said.

The two are among at least 19 cities and counties that already regulate such fertilizers in various ways, everything from banning sales of such products during summer months to limiting their application to 10 feet from any surface water or seawall.

“Urban fertilizer management is the cheapest way to prevent pollution,” said Cris Costello, regional representative for The Sierra Club.

“It costs no money; tax dollars aren’t spent, they’re saved, it’s a way to get individual residents to take personal responsibility to prevent the problem, which is much cheaper than spending tax dollars to clean up the problem once it is there, she said.

“This is a jobs and a tax dollar issue, every job in the coastal community or waterfront community depends on clean water,” she said, adding that last year, even the threat of pollution during the Gulf oil spill damaged Florida’s tourist economy.

Business groups say such regulations are bad for the economy and should be consistent across the state.

“It’s confusing,” said Sally West, government affairs director for the Florida Retail Federation. “Especially for businesses that operate in multiple counties.”

Jose Gonzalez, vice president of governmental affairs for Associated Industries of Florida, said, “It’s a whole patchwork of different local fertilizer ordinances across the 67 counties.”

“That makes it difficult for folks who work in this field to train employees, and it also makes it difficult for retailers,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to be knowledgeable about all the rules.”

Still, newly elected Manatee Commissioner Michael Gallen said Tuesday he thought some of the model ordinance’s provisions might be good, though he had not yet read it.

“It would be better for our environment, due to the runoff during the rainy season -- it is detrimental to our lakes and bays,” Gallen said.

Lakewood Ranch has been among Manatee’s most active communities in educating residents about proper use of such fertilizers and encouraging cultivation of native plants, which require no fertilizer and little water.

The East Manatee community has also tried creative remedies for ecologically damaged lakes, such as aeration and using grass-eating carp that help control nuisance vegetation.

The model ordinance restricts phosphorus in fertilizer at all times, since Florida soils are naturally high in phosphorus; a soil test can pinpoint a deficiency in one’s lawn, said Holly Greening, executive director of the estuary program.

It would also restrict use of nitrogen in fertilizers used on lawns in June, July, August and September, but exempts farm operations, pasture lands and golf courses, the model ordinance says.

The ordinance also prohibits dumping grass clippings and other vegetative debris in stormwater drains, ditches, conveyances, surface water or roadways, the ordinance says.

The St. Petersburg Times contributed to this report.