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Proposed fertilizer ordinance lauded
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ST. PETE BEACH – A panel of five professionals with expertise in a variety of governmental and ecological areas agree that a proposed county ordinance regulating the use of fertilizer on lawns and landscaping is an environmentally sound move.

The group spoke at a Learn and Lunch symposium conducted by the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce Aug. 27 at the TradeWinds Island Grand Resort.

The panel consisted of Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, Kelli Hammer-Levy, Pinellas County Department of Environmental Management; Cathy Harrelson, co-chair of the Pinellas County Environmental Science Forum and a Suncoast Sierra Club member; Mike Holsinger, former Sarasota County Extension Service director; and Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton.

The proposed ordinance, modeled after a similar ordinance in Sarasota County and written by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, would limit the use of fertilizer in the county to nonrainy season months. It would also specify that 50 percent of nitrogen use has to be slow-release fertilizer.

Latvala said the Pinellas Commission has not received the final version of the ordinance but will likely see it around the end of October. If passed, it will go into effect in June 2010.

“The attorneys are still playing with it. So I’d say we’ll probably see it in the next two months,” she said. “We encourage your thoughts and feedback.”

In addition to the county ordinance, many local municipalities are expected to pass a similar ordinance.

If Pinellas passes the proposal, it will become the 14th Gulf Coast community or county to enact such legislation. Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee already have ordinances on the books.

The purpose of the ordinance is to cut down on the amount of nitrogen that flows from lawns and landscaping into area waterways during the rainy season, causing harmful algae blooms, fish kills and red tide.

“We’re headed in the right direction and the key is to get away from using quick-release fertilizers,” said Holsinger. “Slow-release fertilizers don’t have to be applied as often and prevent the need for applications during the rainy season.”

Harrelson said the ordinance is well-crafted and would be a benefit to the environment.

“It’s a strong ordinance for the environment and it sends a simple message to the community,” she said. “That message is less is more.”

However, the ordinance will not be enforced. Instead, county leaders are counting on a strong educational program to keep homeowners and landscape companies from using quick-release fertilizers during the rainy season on a voluntary basis.

Part of the education effort will likely revolve around Hammer-Levy, who oversees many of the county’s environmental interests.

First, and probably foremost, the ordinance will save county taxpayers loads of money.

Hammer-Levy said the county’s goal is to reduce nitrogen inputs by 84 tons per year, which would normally cost between $40,000 and $200,000 per ton, depending on the method used.

The county budgeted $13.5 million to construct regional stormwater facilities on Lake Seminole and Lake Tarpon. The facility at Lake Seminole is currently under construction and work is just beginning at Lake Tarpon. The estimated cost to operate and maintain the facilities is estimated to be about $615,000 a year.

“The better choice,” Hammer-Levy said, “would be to prevent them from getting there in the first place.”

She said a recent study indicated 79 percent of pollutants in Lake Tarpon was nitrogen and 54 percent of Pinellas waterways are considered to be polluted or have an overflow abundance of pollutants.

Thaxton said one of the biggest obstacles Sarasota County faced in adopting its 2007 ordinance was resistance from the local landscape industry. Two years later, he said the landscape industry is still thriving and landscaped property looks better than ever.

“They (landscape industry) have just changed the way they do business,” Thaxton said. “We use the ordinance as an education process to let residents know how they can manage fertilizer use.”

Thaxton said since the adoption of the ordinance, Sarasota County has seen 20 percent less in landscape water use.

Overall, Holsinger said Sarasota County is using less water on lawns, less fertilizer and less pesticide.

Correction: Fixed details reguarding the regional stormwater facilities on Lake Seminole and Lake Tarpon. Also changed the percent of pollutants in Lake Tarpon from 19 percent to 79 percent nitrogen.
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