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Let individual communities control their own fertilizer regulations

By Staff | Mar 10, 2011

Earlier this week, the Senate Agriculture Committee postponed action on a bill introduced by a Northwest Florida lawmaker that would prohibit local governments from restricting the use of lawn fertilizers.

If passed, a single statewide fertilizer-management model, enforced by the Department of Agriculture, would in effect cancel any county or municipal government from implementing stricter regulations.

Such regulations are currently on the books in at least 41 counties across the state, including Lee, which have adopted rules to limit the use of fertilizers with phosphorous and nitrogen in them.

In 2007, the City of Sanibel drafted and adopted an ordinance which requires the use of slow release nitrogen and low phosphorus fertilizers. According to experts with the city’s Department of Natural Resources, phosphorous and nitrogen in fertilizers can contribute to water pollution — including red drift algae — particularly when they’re applied incorrectly and subject to runoff during rains.

From October 1 through June 30, fertilizers applied on Sanibel must contain 20 percent or less Total Nitrogen and 50 percent or more Slow Release Nitrogen. In addition, Total Phosphorus is restricted to 2 percent or less.

Also part of the local regulation, fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus cannot be applied within 25 feet of a body of water, be applied to impervious (hard) surfaces, such as roads, driveways and sidewalks or be dumped into a storm drain.

During his council liaison report on Tuesday, Vice Mayor Mick Denham told the Planning Commission that the statewide model would be devastating to Southwest Florida’s waterways and estuaries. Even more distressing, he stated, was the fact that Sanibel’s House Representative, Trudi Williams, has gone on the record as a supporter of the statewide model

Williams, chair of the House Select Committee on Water Policy, has also said that local ordinances, “make things too complicated.”

“Every community in Southwest Florida should adopt a fertilizer control ordinance, using our resolution as a guide,” Denham stated shortly after the city’s legislation became official.

Both Denham and Planning Commission chair Michael Valiquette have spoken with Williams, and are arranging a meeting with her to plead their case against the state-regulated fertilizer model.

“The waters in Florida are critical to our tourism industry which means they are critical to our businesses and job creation,” Denham said on Monday. “There is a direct link between nitrogen and phosphorus and red drift algae in the Gulf.”

Denham had that fact confirmed last week when a two-year study, conducted by Dr. Ai Ning Loh, associate professor of Marine Science at Florida Gulf Coast University, confirmed that the presence of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water directly contributed to algal growth.

If Sanibel’s local fertilizer ordinance is too restrictive or unfair, let it be challenged. In the past four years, it hasn’t been. Why should the city be forced to make alterations to a practice that is not only working quite well but has been a tremendous benefit to the local environment? In fact, the island’s ordinance serves as a model to other communities who have adopted similar fertilizer regulations.

In last week’s Island Reporter, a guest commentary by Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah suggested that Williams was “following the lead of the fertilizer industry in proposing to preempt local fertilizer management rules to a single statewide model.” Such a move would severely limit the effective management, application and dispersal of fertilizer.

“The Governor and Legislature are suggesting that regulations to protect our environment are too expensive and are doing everything in their power, with the help of special interests, to destroy our precious land and water resources,” Judah wrote. “Talk is cheap; we either protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, or we perish.”

We agree.

We hope that Williams, chairperson of the Lower West Coast Water Supply Plan Advisory Committee, trustee of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed and former board member of the Charlotte Harbour National Estuarine Program Policy, would be willing to listen to what Denham and Valiquette have to say.

And we encourage our readers to write Williams’ District 75 office (12811 Kenwood Lane, Suite 212, Fort Myers, FL 33907-5648), send her an e-mail (trudi.williams@myfloridahouse.gov) or call 239-433-6775 and offer any words of encouragement our local Representative should know, or better understand, about the way islanders feel about protecting our natural resources.

It is our hope that Williams will change her mind about supporting the statewide fertilizer proposal. We stand behind the city’s ordinance. If it isn’t broken, why should anyone attempt to fix it?

— Reporter editorial