Tampa City Council closer to rainy season ban on nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer

06/02/11 Seán Kinane
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Tampa City Council has passed on first reading a fertilizer ordinance that would cut down on the pollution that drains from lawns into the region’s waterways, including Tampa Bay. The excess nutrients lead to algae blooms. Five members of the public spoke in opposition to the ban this morning. But double that number, including local Sierra Club representative Phil Compton, urged Council to support a rainy-season ban on sale and use of nitrogen or phosphorus fertilizer.

"This is an approach that will give us cleaner water, lower taxes, and actually healthier lawns because it will reduce the chinch bug and the root rot fungus problems when we apply too much nitrogen in the summertime."

Compton said other Gulf Coast communities have enacted similar ordinances to limit application or purchase of fertilizer during the summer, to help clean up regional waterways.

"Tampa is the only city on the Gulf coast from Pinellas County down to Naples who has not yet taken this action. So you're not sticking your neck out. You are actually getting on board with a program that has been working for several years now along the Gulf coast."

Hugh Gramling is vice chair of the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. He spoke to Tampa City Council representing the Tampa Bay wholesale growers and the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association. Gramling says pollution runoff from fertilizer is small compared with the amount of nitrogen that enters Tampa Bay through the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

"If you want to reduce the nitrogen in Tampa Bay I suggest a far more effecive method would be to look at your own Howard F. Curran water treatment plant. Your dumping 55 million gallons of water, treated wastewater, and unquestionalby one of the highest treated wastewaters in the state into Tampa Bay. That is giving approximately 90 tons of nitrogen into the bay. You're talking about 8 tons here with no science to support it."

Former state Senator John Grant opposes the fertilizer ordinance because of economics. He disagrees with the city staff’s determination that enforcement and compliance with the fertilizer ordinance could be enhanced by banning the sale of nitrogen or phosphorous fertilizers during the summer.

"We're dealing with an ordinance that deals only with the city of Tampa. And what you're going to do is simply cause people to drive outside of the city limits anywhere in Hillsborough County. Hillsborough County has adopted a responsible ordininance and I would suggest that you ought to let that stay in place. The state of Florida has passed a respoinsible statute which will become law as soon as it's signed by the governor. It's currently on his desk."

Former Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said it’s time for Council to take action because the state has dropped the ball.

"Our river board voted to support this as did the Tampa Bay Estuary Group which consists of all the communities around Tampa Bay estuaries. But most importantly Tampa's City Council voted, I believe, unanimously to support this and asked the Environmental Protection Commission to do something. Well they didn't but we can. So today Tampa's City Council has the opportunity to protect our Bay, our river and actually Council is the appropriate group because most of the shoreline that's affected residentially is affected through the city of Tampa."

Only one member of City Council, Frank Reddick, voted against the fertilizer ordinance, citing economic impacts. But Mary Mulhern, one of the six who supported it, said the partial fertilizer ban would have a positive economic impact on the region.

"We're going to be saving money in the cost of cleanup which we heard. I think the really only arguments against doing this were economic and I don't think they hold water because of that. Because we'll save money for the city by doing that. This point of sales thing, the beautiful thing about that is it really doesn't cost the taxpayers money to do that and the economic benefit I think is. as Miss Monteleone said, it's encouraging innovation and creating new products and we see that it's already happening that Florida businesses are creating Florida specific fertilizer and there is no reason why the big companies that have, Scott and the big fertilizer companies have the capital to do that, to develop new products. This is a new market and they can develop the new products."

A state law preventing summertime fertilizer bans goes into effect July 1. Tampa City Council could beat that deadline; it will hold a public hearing on the proposed fertilizer ordinance on June 23.

Hugh Gramling

Sen. John Grant

previous coverage of Tampa fertilizer ordinance

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