Ad on HART busses reminds residents that Tampa fertlizer ordinance gives lawn mowers a break

05/04/12 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 ordinance’s most attractive benefits.

Now Tampa residents can choose fun, not fertilizer this summer. At least that’s what’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 it’s reminding homeowners that not using nitrogen on yards this summer will reduce the amount of times they have to mow.

“They 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.”

But the purpose of the ordinance wasn’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 – that reddish hue that often swallows much of the bay. Nanette O’Hara, the public outreach coordinator for the estuary program said the ordinance only bans nitrogen during the rainy summer months.

“All plants do need the three major nutrients which are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. So, we don’t want to tell people not to use nitrogen most of the year. We want them to use nitrogen October through May.”

But during the months nitrogen can be used, O’Hara said only certain kinds are OK.

“The city’s ordinance which mirrors Pinellas County’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.”

But some critics worried that their lawns would suffer.

“Actually their grass is much greener.”

Phil Compton, regional representative for the Sierra Club, said there are a lot of benefits to regulating fertilizer use.

“And their taxes are much lower. Here in Tampa, we’re going to save as much as $56 million because we don’t have to remove the nitrogen from the waters the way we used to. It’s a very hard thing to do – $3500 a pound of nitrogen. This is not throwing tax dollars at a problem. This is educating people to use personal responsibility.”

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.

“It’s a great thing for our local Florida businesses because we still can purchase fertilizer and use fertilizer. We’re stimulating a new economy that’s actually creating products that are made in Florida to be sold during those summer months.

And Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s O’Hara said it could open new economic opportunities for local companies.

“Starting 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.”

And that also means it’s easy to find. O’Hara directs people concerned about where they can find summertime fertilizers to their website to find a list of available products.

“In 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.”

Florida lawns can fall victim to a yard-browning insect villain. But in areas like Sarasota where similar ordinances have been enacted, Tampa City Council’s Mulhern said,

“We found out that it’s a solution to cinch bug – not using that. I know on my lawn, that’s the biggest problem we have. The grass turns brown because of cinch bug and that has been contributed to by the nitrogen fertilizer we’ve been using. So, that’s another added bonus.”

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 doesn’t regulate sales, only use. Mulhern said she hopes Tampa’s fertilizer restrictions, which takes effect next month, will motivate the county to update its ordinance.

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