Ad on HART busses reminds residents that Tampa fertlizer ordinance gives lawn mowers a break listen05/04/12 Janelle Irwin
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Starting next month, nitrogen-based fertilizers will be banned during summer months. Some environmentalists are both celebrating and spreading the word. At a press conference Friday morning at the Marion Transit Center, representatives from those groups and Tampa City Council unveiled a bus that advertises one of the ordinanceâ€™s most attractive benefits.
Now Tampa residents can choose fun, not fertilizer this summer. At least thatâ€™s whatâ€™s printed on two HART buses with a bright orange background. That mobile advertising will run for two months. Holly Greening, executive director of the group, said itâ€™s reminding homeowners that not using nitrogen on yards this summer will reduce the amount of times they have to mow.
â€œThey can save time and help protect Hillsborough Bay and the Hillsborough River from excess nutrient runoff from residual landscaping by skipping the fertilizer this summer.â€
But the purpose of the ordinance wasnâ€™t to get people out of some of their lawn maintenance. It was intended to keep Hillsborough area waterways clean. According to Tampa Bay Estuary, 20% of the nitrogen in Tampa Bay comes from fertilizer runoff which contributes to things like algae blooms â€“ that reddish hue that often swallows much of the bay. Nanette Oâ€™Hara, the public outreach coordinator for the estuary program said the ordinance only bans nitrogen during the rainy summer months.
â€œAll plants do need the three major nutrients which are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. So, we donâ€™t want to tell people not to use nitrogen most of the year. We want them to use nitrogen October through May.â€
But during the months nitrogen can be used, Oâ€™Hara said only certain kinds are OK.
â€œThe cityâ€™s ordinance which mirrors Pinellas Countyâ€™s requires that the nitrogen be at least 50% slow release. So, it has to be in a gradual release form which makes it less likely to run off into Florida waterways.â€
But some critics worried that their lawns would suffer.
â€œActually their grass is much greener.â€
Phil Compton, regional representative for the Sierra Club, said there are a lot of benefits to regulating fertilizer use.
â€œAnd their taxes are much lower. Here in Tampa, weâ€™re going to save as much as $56 million because we donâ€™t have to remove the nitrogen from the waters the way we used to. Itâ€™s a very hard thing to do â€“ $3500 a pound of nitrogen. This is not throwing tax dollars at a problem. This is educating people to use personal responsibility.â€
And with elected officials like Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern searching for ways to boost local economies, this could be a part of that solution.
â€œItâ€™s a great thing for our local Florida businesses because we still can purchase fertilizer and use fertilizer. Weâ€™re stimulating a new economy thatâ€™s actually creating products that are made in Florida to be sold during those summer months.
And Tampa Bay Estuary Programâ€™s Oâ€™Hara said it could open new economic opportunities for local companies.
â€œStarting last year when it was adopted and implemented in Pinellas County, has actually allowed Florida-based fertilizer manufacturers to get a toe hold in some of these big box stores where they could really never get through the door before.â€
And that also means itâ€™s easy to find. Oâ€™Hara directs people concerned about where they can find summertime fertilizers to their website to find a list of available products.
â€œIn the summertime, we have quite a few products that are either compost based organic blends that are micro-nutrients like potassium or iron and all of those are made by Florida companies.â€
Florida lawns can fall victim to a yard-browning insect villain. But in areas like Sarasota where similar ordinances have been enacted, Tampa City Councilâ€™s Mulhern said,
â€œWe found out that itâ€™s a solution to cinch bug â€“ not using that. I know on my lawn, thatâ€™s the biggest problem we have. The grass turns brown because of cinch bug and that has been contributed to by the nitrogen fertilizer weâ€™ve been using. So, thatâ€™s another added bonus.â€
Tampa is the last of a long list of Gulf Coast localities as far south as Naples to implement a strong fertilizer ordinance. Hillsborough has one, but it doesnâ€™t regulate sales, only use. Mulhern said she hopes Tampaâ€™s fertilizer restrictions, which takes effect next month, will motivate the county to update its ordinance.