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‘Home rule’ at stake in water quality campaign

By Staff | Nov 2, 2012

JIM LINETTE Sanibel Vice Mayor Mick Denham talks to the more than 24 people who attended his area captains fertilizer outreach and advocacy workshop Monday at City Hall.

A network of homeowners, seasonal residents, environmental organizations, regional governmental officials and citizens from all walks of life is coming together to battle expected legislative efforts deemed harmful to “home rule” with regards to water quality standards.

Sanibel Vice Mayor Mick Denham, who has been working on the fertilizer ordinance front for years, hosted more than two dozen people interested in supporting and assisting his continuing local water quality endeavor at a meeting at City Hall Monday.

“The main thing is we are looking for more people to join in this endeavor,” said Denham. “We are not trying to prevent the use of fertilizer, but the nutrients that come with it from reaching the waterways. Fertilizer is not the only source of harmful nutrients. There is storm water, septic tanks and package treatment plants that service a small group of homes. We’re proud on Sanibel that there are virtually no septic tanks and package treatment plants have been disappearing.”

The list of people attending Monday’s fertilizer legislation outreach and advocacy workshop in Mackenzie Hall reads like a who’s who. Sanibel Planning Commissioners Chuck Ketteman, Tom Krekel and Mike Valiquette listened to the presentation as well as a city commissioner from North Port, Linda Yates. Officials representing Estero, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers and the Tourist Development Council, as well as several from the Sanibel Fishing Club, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and the Committee of the Islands.

Denham and Sanibel Natural Resources director James Evans laid out the details, facts and figures for the attendees who they hoped would sign up to become area captains in the citizen education phase of the program.

“We had 20 say ‘yes,'” Denham said after the meeting broke up.

Each of the area captains are asked to reach out to at least 10 other people to assist in a letter-writing campaign in response to lobbyist influence on legislators in the coming session.

“There are 63 local (Florida) governments who have passed fertilizer ordinances,” said Evans. “All of them are more stringent than the state standards.”

Six governmental bodies in Lee County alone have ordinances in place – Sanibel, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs, Naples and Cape Coral.

“Lobbyists for the fertilizer industry are gearing up with bills to harm local governments’ ability to control them,” said Evans.

“The goal is to kill these bills in committee,” said Denham. “We want to stop them before they get to the floor of the legislature.”

Evans’ presentation recalled days not too long ago when red drift algae was stacked two to four feet on area beaches.

“Ours is a tourist-based economy,” Evans added. “If you don’t have clean water and clean beaches, there will be no tourists.”

Sanibel’s ordinance stipulates fertilizer containing nitrogen and phosphorus cannot be applied dirung the rainy season (July 1-Sept. 30), within 25 feet of any body of water, to impervious (hard) surfaces or dumped in storm drains.

Denham said fertilizer companies based in Florida are working with the campaign while companies based outside the state are lobbying state legislators in their favor.

When bills are written and sent to legislative committees, the area captain network expects to be activated with a specific response emailed to lawmakers.

A second workshop was conducted Tuesday with a smaller responsive group that was unable to attend Monday’s workshop.