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House bill would stop Pinellas fertilizer ban

A bill headed for a vote in the Florida House as early as Monday would block Pinellas County and any other local government from banning the sale of fertilizer in the rainy summer months, a step Pinellas took to clean up its polluted waterways.

Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala said the bill's backers don't know what they're doing.

"I don't understand why the Legislature thinks they know better than we do what is the best interest of our citizens, and more importantly our budgets," she said.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, acknowledged Friday that he's intent on pre-empting the Pinellas sales ban — currently the toughest fertilizer regulation in the state — because "I think they're going about it the wrong way."

If a county bans fertilizer sales in the summer, Nelson contended, "people are either going to cross the county line (to buy it) or they're going to buy twice as much in the spring. Or you're going to put twice as much on right before the blackout month."

Nelson said his goal is to save local governments from making ill-informed decisions that might hurt the lawn-care industry: "What we're trying to stop is some city manager saying, 'Hey, here's what I want to do. I don't want any fertilizer on Monday through Thursday.' "

But that's not how Pinellas came up with its tough new rules, said Commissioner Ken Welch. During a pair of lengthy public hearings prior to the January vote, he said, "we heard from both sides. It wasn't something we passed on a whim."

Pinellas commissioners backed the ban because, they said, they were tired of spending $30 million trying to clean up water pollution from fertilizer runoff in places such as Lake Tarpon and Lake Seminole, only to see the rainy season hit and wash even more fertilizer into the water.

About three-quarters of county waters are considered impaired by pollution, much of it from fertilizer.

The bill for cleaning up all that pollution is "a huge burden on the taxpayers. And it's only going to get worse," Latvala said.

The Pinellas County ordinance will ban people from applying fertilizer with nitrogen or phosphorous from June to September. Next year, the law bans sales of the same products by retailers during that time period. Although other municipal governments around the state have discussed similar bans (including Hillsborough County), none has followed Pinellas' example yet. St. Petersburg has passed a less stringent ban.

Pinellas environmental manager Will Davis said the ban on sales — the most controversial part of the ordinance — would affect fewer than 20 businesses in the unincorporated areas. He said Pinellas is moving forward with preparations to enforce the ban, regardless of what happens in Tallahassee.

The bill was debated in the House Friday and is now scheduled for a final reading and a vote as early as Monday. Sierra Club lobbyist David Cullen, whose organization opposes the bill, predicted it would nevertheless pass the House. "We're hoping to stop it in the Senate," Cullen said.

Language similar to what's in the House bill was stripped from its Senate companion measure, SB 382, during a committee vote last week. After the meeting, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, said he hopes to restore that language targeting the Pinellas fertilizer ban before it's voted on by the full Senate.

Federal regulators have proposed tough new pollution standards for all of Florida's waterways affected by fertilizer ingredients, but on Thursday the House passed a resolution sponsored by Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, calling for a delay.

Times staff writers John Frank and Bill Varian contributed to this report.

House bill would stop Pinellas fertilizer ban 04/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 24, 2010 12:25am]
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