Hillsborough Commissioners vote not to ban fertilizer use in summer

07/15/10 Matthew Cimitile
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Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 5-2 this morning not to ban the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus during the summer rainy season. They made their decision in their role as the board of the Environmental Protection Commission in front of an audience filled with fertilizer representatives and environmentalists.

After months of debates and delays, Hillsborough County Commissioners decided not to follow the precedent set by Sarasota and Pinellas Counties. Hillsborough chose not to ban the use and sale of fertilizers on residential lawns from June through September. Commissioner Mark Sharpe said the ban was government at its worse because it created too much regulation that will cost jobs and not improve the problem of nitrogen entering Tampa Bay.

“My concern is this, before I jump without any data, we don’t even know if we pick option 4 or option 3 what the results might be. The only option we have data on is option 1 which talks about the 30 tons, which is less than one-quarter of one percent of the total problem. That seems to be government at its worse. We want to put a lot of regulation out there, we don’t really have any idea of the impact of it and its going to effect less than one-quarter of one percent, but its going to effect a lot of jobs.”

Environmental Protection Commission staff recommended four options to regulate excessive fertilizer runoff into the bay. Option 1 was recommended by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. It was the most restrictive and the one the Commissioners discussed most frequently during the meeting. But Commission Chair Al Higginbotham motioned to get rid of its major regulation, the summertime ban on fertilizer use. Higginbotham said that even without the ban, Option 1 would still be stricter than the state requires.

“It requires soil testing for phosphorus containing fertilizer, extends turf-water buffer zones, accelerates BMP training requirements for compliance deadlines, extends weather related to no fertilizer restrictions during storm occurrences. With that I’m going to recommend that we strike, I can read the entire thing if you like, that no applicator should apply fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus to turf during the restrictive season from June 1 to September 30 but leaving in the more restrictive area aspects of this rule.”

The rule also includes an education component and a future scientific evaluation to determine whether the regulations have worked. But Commissioner Kevin Beckner believed this did not go far enough to protect the environment and avoid potential fines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“I also will not be supporting this motion, I don’t think it does enough for our environment or does enough to really have an impact on the financial crisis that we are going to be facing when EPA comes to us and starts demanding that we have to start spending dollars to remove excess nitrogen from our waterways. I believe that in option 1 it provides a cost effective way and an easy way to get to the point where we need to be to remove the excess nitrogen.”

Tom Krumreich, a community representative of Florida Consumer Action, was in the audience and was disappointed in the commission’s decision to not ban summer fertilizer use.

“This was a huge mistake, even if you look at it on economic grounds. First of all, by not having the summer ban, you have 30 thousand tons of nitrogen that you had the opportunity to eliminate. The expert testimony at the meeting was that the cost per ton to clean up that nitrogen once it gets in the water is going to be anywhere from $40,000 to $200,000 per ton. We are right on the cusp of the maximum amount we can have in the bay, as far as nitrogen can go. By not subtracting any from that, that is going to effect economic growth because we can’t allow new industries to come in here if they are going to add to the nitrogen load."

Beckner and Rose Ferlita voted against striking down the summertime ban. But the watered-down fertilizer ordinance passed and will go into effect June 1, 2010.

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