Hillsborough EPC fertilizer rule temporarily stalled

05/21/09 Seán Kinane
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Earlier this year, St. Petersburg enacted a fertilizer ordinance that restricts the use of nitrogen fertilizers on lawns during the summer rainy season. The Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission EPC is also considering a fertilizer rule.

The Florida Legislature recently passed SB 494, which will become law if it is signed by Gov. Charlie Crist. It includes a model fertilizer ordinance designed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

That model discourages a rainy season ban on fertilizers, according to the Sierra Club’s regional representative, Phil Compton. He says a ban is needed, so some environmental groups, like the Sierra Club “are asking the governor to veto that bill.”

Compton expressed his concern to the Hillsborough EPC during the public comment section of the meeting Thursday morning in Tampa.

Erica Santella spoke in support of SB 494, in part because it includes certification training for professionals who apply fertilizer. Santella is the region technical manager for TrueGreen and represents the Florida Pest Management Association and the licensed pest control business. “I am asking the commissioners to adopt the state model ordinance as written.”

SB 494 will go into effect on July 1 if it is signed by the governor by the end of the month.

Tony D'Aquila, director of the EPC’s Environmental Resources Management Division, presented the board with staff’s recommendation.

“In order to comply with state legislative intent, that you would authorize the EPC to initiate rulemaking, to establish a rule of the EPC addressing fertilizer management. That rule would substantively be in compliance with the DEP model ordinance while considering additional standards.”

The fertilizer ordinances passed by St. Petersburg are based on a model ordinance created by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. It was designed so that local governments could help reduce the amount of pollution that runs off into Tampa Bay and other waterways causing algae blooms and leading to fish kills. Several other communities in the state have enacted or are considering fertilizer ordinances.

PC Board Chair Al Higginbotham, thinks it’s too soon for Hillsborough to move forward with a fertilizer rule.

“So I’ll pass the gavel and make a motion that we table this until we have clear signal from the governor as to whether this is going to become statute. And at that point we look at the budget and then we’ll go back to the drawing board with these other communities [Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City], because I hate to be the only one in the county who has an ordinance when our other municipalities aren’t doing it. So that’s my motion.”

Higgenbotham’s motion was passed unanimously; Commissioners Mark Sharpe and Jim Norman were absent.

The Sierra Club’s Phil Compton still thinks the EPC wants a stronger fertilizer rule.

“Well I think the Commission wants to hear from the governor that there really is a need to pass a fertilizer management ordinance. We now have rainy season bans on nitrogen and phosphorous in effect protecting our water quality in ten different Gulf coast communities from Naples up to Sarasota. St. Petersburg passed theirs two months ago. And I think the [SB] 494 bill – it makes the communities prove they have water quality problems. And certainly we have no problem proving that here in Hillsborough County. Our waters are impaired. Every pond and lake and creek and stream and river – and the Bay – need to be cleaned up. And this is a very effective way of cleaning up those waters.”

County Administrator Pat Bean has warned the EPC that because of county revenue shortfalls, the agency could face cuts of about 25 percent.

EPC executive director Rick Garrity displayed a pie chart of his agency’s budget and asked the Board whether the 25 percent cut would be based on the EPC’s allocation from the general fund, or based on a larger amount that includes fees and charges collected by the agency.

“So, about half the agency is funded through general fund. But that’s not really true, because if you look at the 13 percent yellow piece of pie there, those are the fees. The fees actually go into the general fund. So the total general fund portion of the agency, you’d have to add the blue [general fund] plus the yellow [fees]. I guess my point is: we’re bringing in the fees anyway, so the dependency on the general fund, I tend to think of as fifty percent.”

The EPC board voted unanimously to draft a letter to County Administrator Pat Bean asking her to consider the fees and charges that EPC collects when planning the budget.

The next EPC board meeting is June 18 at the County Center in downtown Tampa.

EPC of Hillsborough County

SB 494

St. Pete fertilizer

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