Tampa moves forward on summertime fertilizer ban

05/26/11 Kate Bradshaw
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A state law preventing summertime fertilizer bans goes into effect July 1. Tampa City Council could beat the deadline by taking up the first reading of a fertilizer ordinance next week.

The good news for environmentalists? The Tampa City Council unanimously agreed to discuss a fertilizer ban at the next city council meeting. The bad news? An unrelated workshop item on today’s city council workshop agenda went well beyond its allotted time, so the specifics of the proposal are yet to be determined. Assistant City Attorney Jan McLean said because of the state’s HB 7215, which bars cities and counties from adopting local bans, the city needs to act fast if it wants to protect its waterways.

"If a local government wished to adopt an ordinance that regulated the sale of fertilizer and that ordinance was on the books, adopted, before July 1st of this year, then that local government could enforce their ordinance. After July 1st, no. That would be pre-emptive to the state."

Cities and counties across the state have adopted ordinances limiting lawn fertilizers. Manatee County is one of the latest. Stormwater runoff from fertilized lawns feeds harmful algae blooms in local waterways. Phil Compton is a regional representative of the Sierra Club. He said barring use of nutrient-rich fertilizers is the only way to prevent this.

"It rains in Florida in the summertime. June, July, August, and September and from Pinellas County down to Naples on the Gulf coast of Florida and on the east coast as well, communities have moved forward in the last several years. These approaches are working very well."

Last year, Hillsborough County adopted a ban on fertilizers within ten feet of water, and only before heavy rainfall. Compton said those rules don’t go far enough.

"What we do not have with the Hillsborough County ordinance is the capturing of the rainy season restriction which is the essence of that and what makes it possible by requiring that nitrogen be 50 percent slow release so you can use it in the Spring and again in October after the rainy season."

The US Environmental Protection Agency has determined that most of Florida’s waterways are “impaired,” which in essence means too clogged with algae to be healthy. The agency will soon start regulating the amount of nutrient pollution in waterways throughout the state. Opponents of the new nutrient criteria say keeping up with the new standards has an impossibly high price tag, but activist Beverly Griffiths said a fertilizer ban would make it much easier for the cities to comply.

"EPA has made some very good and reasonable recommendations for Florida to clean up their impaired waters and I think if we could do this, get Tampa to adopt a strong ordinance, it would go a long way toward meeting EPA's standards."

Tampa City Council chair Charlie Miranda said only banning the sale of fertilizer within the city means residents can still go where it’s legal to buy it. Still, he said, one has to start somewhere.

"My personal feeling is point of sale, even though that doesn't prevent anyone from not going to an outside area where there's no ordinance in effect, buy it and use it, but it's a point to start and that's what I'm most interested in."

Critics of fertilizer bans say they hurt local businesses. Council member Frank Reddick said he wants to hear more about the ban’s economic impacts next Thursday, when the ordinance has its first reading.

"We talked about economic development earlier, talked about job creation, now I want to know how many people are going to be affected by this ordinance."

Tampa Bay Estuary Program head Holly Greening said there are quite a few fertilizer products out there that are Florida-friendly, many of which are locally-produced.

"The stores now have about 70 different products that are available and on the shelves now. Most of those products are made in Florida."

If the fertilizer ordinance is approved on first reading, the second reading and public hearing is scheduled for June 23.

Previous WMNF news coverage of the Tampa City Council

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