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Lawmakers change bill to allow Pinellas County sales ban on nitrogen fertilizers

A display of flamingos Thursday at St. Petersburg City Hall aims to bring public attention to the effects of using excess nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

A display of flamingos Thursday at St. Petersburg City Hall aims to bring public attention to the effects of using excess nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers.

TALLAHASSEE — Good news for Pinellas County: Its summer sales ban on nitrogen-based fertilizers can remain in place.

A push by lawmakers to prevent local regulation of residential fertilizer use from going further than a state model moved forward Thursday, but with an exception for existing laws.

Going forward, though, no more sales bans could be passed if HB 457 becomes law. As originally proposed, the bill would have vetoed the Pinellas ban and at least 20 other local ordinances more restrictive than the state model.

Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, introduced the amendment to the bill to grandfather in existing local laws. The House State Affairs Committee approved the measure.

Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni said he wasn't surprised Brandes got the bill changed.

"I wasn't a happy camper," Morroni said, adding he urged Brandes to find a way to salvage Pinellas' ordinance.

The ordinance came after months of review by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, and the county's own staff and environmental advisory board.

Environmental advocates say limiting fertilizer use during the rainy season cuts down on nitrogen-heavy runoff that pollutes rivers, bays and other waterways. Officials from local governments say they want the right to pass ordinances to prevent pollution so they don't have to pay for cleanup to meet water quality requirements.

Brandes said the revised bill will let local governments make their own rules with state approval. But David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said he doesn't believe Brandes is correct. Cullen said in his reading of the amended bill, it appears local governments could only enforce Florida's minimally restrictive model fertilizer ordinance. Among other things, the model ordinance prohibits the application of fertilizer before a heavy rain and within 10 feet of a water body.

Cullen said he is grateful that existing ordinances can stand.

"It's an improvement on the original bill definitely. No question about that," he said.

But he wants the bill adjusted to guarantee local governments can enforce their rules.

Retailers argue state control of fertilizer regulation is necessary to protect businesses and prevent a confusing patchwork of ordinances.

The bill passed by a vote of 14-3. Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, was among those opposing the measure, saying he still has unanswered questions. It goes next to the House floor. A similar bill is making its way through Senate committees.

"It's a win for Pinellas, but it's a loss for the rest of the state," Commissioner Susan Latvala, who spearheaded the ordinance, said of the restriction on future sales bans. "… If it's good for us, it's good for everybody. The issue is home rule."

The county has begun working with retailers to stop selling the fertilizers banned during the summer, creating a public service announcement and signs for store shelves. Few citations have been written because the county is focused on educating people, Pinellas officials said.

Times staff writer David DeCamp contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Lawmakers change bill to allow Pinellas County sales ban on nitrogen fertilizers 04/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2011 10:42pm]
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