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Pinellas plans soft rollout of fertilizer ban

With a summer fertilizer ban approved, Pinellas County is planning to roll out "soft glove" enforcement and education efforts to make it work.

But will it? Even supporters say it will take time to have an effect.

"It's going to take a while for people to understand what's in the ordinance, what's the importance of the ordinance," said Will Davis, environmental management director for Pinellas.

From June 1 to Sept. 30, lawns can't be fertilized with products containing nitrogen or phosphorous, or when warnings are issued about severe rains or flooding. Golf courses, farms and vegetable gardens are exempt.

A retail ban starts in 2011. Then, retailers won't be able to sell that kind of fertilizer during the rainy season.

The law will be the toughest in the state, and lawn care and pest control companies ripped the black-out period as costly without being based on science.

Pinellas officials, backed by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, say the move will stop nitrogen from damaging county waters, most of which are listed as impaired.

County officials are bracing for a lawsuit seeking to overturn it.

"We have to consider all options," said Orlando attorney Dan Gerber, who represents TruGreen. "This is an issue of jobs and prosperity for hundreds of people."

Lawn industry officials say the law won't work, merely prompting people to apply more insecticide in the summer to stave off damage when lawns aren't as healthy or to skirt the ban by purchasing fertilizer where available.

Gerber noted Davis acknowledged before the commission's 6-1 vote that the restriction isn't based on science.

That's technically true, Davis said afterward. But there's plenty of evidence concluding that nitrogen pollution damages lakes and waterways.

The law applies countywide, although cities can adopt their own standards or opt out.

St. Petersburg, which has a less-stringent code, will review its options and requirements over the next few weeks, administrator Mike Connors said. If cities accept the county ordinance, they are expected to enforce it within their limits.

While some neighborhoods have rules mandating green lawns, the county ordinance will be a viable defense in court against a violation, County Attorney Jim Bennett said.

"It's probably much too soon to say that anybody's lawn will be going to hell in a handbasket," Bennett said.

Instead of a crackdown, Davis said success will be based on educating residents and creating a climate where they report violations — like violators are reported during watering restrictions.

The county will launch an educational effort with environmental groups to let residents know about the law. One-time offenders won't be cited — fines can start at $100 or so — but repeat offenders may be, Davis said.

"Basically it is the soft glove approach. We're going to be pretty patient with residents for sure," Davis said.

Enforcement will be tougher on lawn care and pest control companies. The county has 18 code enforcement and watershed management officers to enforce the law.

"I don't know how you make certain parts of it work," said County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, who voted for the ordinance. "We might be able to restrict the sale, but if you've got any in the garage and you want to fertilize your lawn Fourth of July, you're going to fertilize."

Reach David DeCamp at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

fast facts

How the fertilizer ban works

Who it affects: Every resident who lives in Pinellas County, unless you live in a city that decides to opt out. So far, none have.

What it means: You can't fertilize your lawn with nitrogen-based products during the rainy season, June 1 to Sept. 30. A retail ban won't kick in until next year, when you also won't be able to buy such products in the county during that time period.

Who's exempt: Golf courses, farms and vegetable gardens.

Pinellas plans soft rollout of fertilizer ban 01/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 5:17pm]
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