Hillsborough Commission hears updates on oil spill and stricter fertilizer ordinance

05/20/10 Matthew Cimitile
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The Hillsborough County Commission met earlier today to hear an update of the oil spill and the likelihood of potential impacts on Tampa Bay. They also discussed preventing damage to Tampa Bay from a major on-shore pollution source – that is, residential fertilizers.

In August of 1993, a freighter and two barges collided, dumping over 360,000 gallons of oil, jet fuel and gasoline into Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay’s worst oil spill contaminated 13 miles of beaches and injured sea turtles, birds, mangroves and salt marshes. The well at Deepwater Horizon has already oozed at least 10 times that amount into the Gulf. But Alain Watson, the emergency response coordinator for the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission, said we probably won’t see the level of damage we saw in 1993.

“Fortunately we are not going to see this type of impact with this incident in the Gulf. Marine science experts tell us that by the time and distance that the oil spilling in the Gulf takes to reach us, it will be well weathered and in the form of tar balls or oil sheen.”

The Deepwater Horizon leak that began on April 20 is still pumping possibly millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day. Recent scientific estimates range from over 200,000 gallons a day to 4 million gallons per day. The location of the spill, amount of oil and prevailing winds and currents still cloud what the ultimate impacts will be and when the bay area might see them.

“At this time the oil spill is still 200-some-odd miles away from Tampa Bay. Its direct impacts to us might be weeks away, maybe even months away. The extent of the spill is really dependent on the amount of oil that is released, the wind pattern certainly and the gulf currents.”

The Commission also heard updates on rules relating to establishing a stricter fertilizer ordinance for the county. Richard Tschantz, General Council for the County’s Environmental Protection Commission, said laws to limit the amount of nutrient pollution in waterways have failed to pass at the state level, allowing the county to establish stricter regulation on fertilizer use.

“The first is obviously one that Dr. Garrity has already mentioned on the fertilizer bills that may have established more restrictions for local government in passing fertilizer regulation ordinances or rules and they all did die. So we are free to go forward on June 10 and we think that we have covered the existing law in all of the obstacles that we have to go through to pass a more stringent regulation.”

A public hearing on banning fertilizer use on residential lawns during the rainy summer months to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus ending up in Hillsborough County waterways will be held on June 10. Pinellas County passed a similar ordinance earlier in the year.

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