Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Manatee County adopts STRONG urban fertilizer ordinance!

On May 24, Manatee County became the 36th local government in Florida to adopt a strict rainy season urban fertilizer application ban. 

The draft ordinance presented to the county commissioners was close to a mirror image of the Pinellas County ordinance passed in 2010 – the strongest urban fertilizer management ordinance in the state – and included the fertilizer sales restrictions found only in Pinellas County to date.

However, after over three hours of presentations, public comment and commissioner discussion, the draft ordinance was stripped of the sales restrictions but remained with all of the other strong fertilizer pollution control provisions found in the Pinellas, Sarasota, and Lee County ordinances.  These include:

·         A ban on application of fertilizer containing Nitrogen and/or Phosphorous in the four rainy summer months – from June 1 through September 30.
·         A required fertilizer-free zone of at least 10 feet from waterbodies.
·         A yearly application limit for Nitrogen of 4 lb/1000ft2.
·         The required use of at least 50% slow release/controlled release Nitrogen products.

Over 40 proponents of strong fertilizer management, including home owner association representatives, environmentalists, green businesses, green landscapers, and concerned citizens filled the commission chambers – many wore the neon stickers that have become a staple of the Sierra Club’s presence at council and commission meetings all over the state.

The usual opponent suspects were also present; Tru-Green, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Valley Crest and pest control industry representatives argued for the absolute minimum measures found in the FDEP Model Ordinance.  The turf industry (Schroeder-Manatee Ranch) also chimed in and attempted, unsuccessfully, to gut the ordinance with a proposal to exempt all licensed applicators from the entire ordinance. 

The vote to adopt the strong ordinance was a particularly strange one.  Three champions of strong urban fertilizer management on the Manatee Commission, Commissioners Joe McClash, John Chappie and Michael Gallen actually voted against the motion that resulted in the adoption of the ordinance; they refused to vote for the ordinance if it did not include the sales restriction enforcement component.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore’s interest in strong fertilizer management began several years ago when she spearheaded the move to switch all county owned property to the fertilizer management practices found in the Sarasota County ordinance.  However, the sales ban proved to be too much for her and Commissioners Larry Bustle, Donna Hayes and Robin DiSabatino.  It was DiSabatino who offered the winning motion to adopt the draft ordinance minus the sales restrictions.

After the vote, a unanimous verbal request was made to the county attorney to quickly bring a draft retail education (signage) ordinance to the board as an alternative enforcement measure.

After the vote was over the process took another strange turn.  Commissioner Hayes had repeatedly exclaimed her aversion to the sales ban and acceptance of the rest of the draft and voted for the modified ordinance.  Nevertheless, at the tail end of the day’s hearings, Hayes requested a reconsideration of the vote, claiming she did not intend to vote for the rainy season application ban.  The vote to reconsider failed thereby leaving the original adoption vote intact.

The adopted modified draft is not yet available but the original draft ordinance and the support material can be accessed by clicking here.  Please note that Sec. 2-35-12 (a-e) on page 12 of the original draft was excised before adoption.

The City of Tampa, Charlotte County and Collier County are currently in the process of debating the adoption of their own 4-month rainy season application bans – if they follow the leadership provided by the other 36 local governments, the chain of strong fertilizer pollution control codes will cover the entire southwest Florida gulf coast.