Fight is on over planned fertilizer ban in Hillsborough

TAMPA — Prepare for fireworks today as Hillsborough County environmental regulators consider a summertime ban of nitrogen-based lawn fertilizers.

Environmental protection groups have been pushing for the prohibition for years, saying summer rains cause excess nitrogen to run into local waterways, making them unhealthy for sea grass, fish and other wildlife.

Fertilizers are fine if used appropriately and in the right place, said Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network.

"Unfortunately, people tend to just go and get some at Lowe's and dump it on their yards, and then it rains and we have a problem in our rivers and our springs and the bay, and we get algae blooms," Newton said. "It's not as if we don't have plenty of pollution out in the gulf right now."

The bans have been catching on: Pinellas County and St. Petersburg have both approved them.

A move by state lawmakers, supported by retailers and the agriculture industry, to trump those local rules failed this spring.

With a vote imminent by Hills­borough's Environmental Protection Commission, whose members are the county commissioners, opponents of the ban identifying themselves as a "coalition of concerned citizens and business people" have called county residents, urging them to tell commissioners they object to the measure.

Tampa resident Robin Rosenberg received one of the calls Monday.

"They connected me to (County Commissioner) Mark Sharpe, whose staff person I was happy to tell that I supported the ban," she said.

Tea party members have mobilized to fight the ordinance, sending an e-mail saying it's "time to stop the takeover of our county commission by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups pushing their 'sustainable development' agenda."

Hillsborough's proposed ordinance would ban the sale and use of fertilizers with nitrogen and phosphorous between June 1 and Sept. 30. It would exempt golf courses and large farms. If approved, it would take effect in 2011.

"We wanted to have about a year's worth of time for education efforts," said Rick Garrity, the EPC's executive director.

The Tampa Bay Estuary Program, which has advocated for a summer sales prohibition throughout the region, estimates that if 50 percent of bay area residents complied with a ban, it would reduce nitrogen pollution by about 30 tons a year.

The rule could help the region comply with new water-quality standards coming from the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, which limits nitrogen levels in surface water. If those levels are exceeded, local governments would have to spend taxpayer money to clean up the water.

Some opponents of the ban, though, say applying fertilizer appropriately is enough to keep waterways clean.

TruGreen supports efforts to protect Florida's waterways, but the company also believes a model ordinance developed by state officials in 2009 is more "sensible" and "actionable" than a ban, said Susanna Weston, a spokeswoman for the lawn care company.

Among other things, that ordinance requires that deflector shields be used when applying fertilizer and that it be kept off driveways, sidewalks and other impervious surfaces.

The EPC hearing is at 9 a.m. at County Center, 601 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Fight is on over planned fertilizer ban in Hillsborough 06/10/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 10, 2010 12:36am]

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