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Tampa looking at a rainy season ban on fertilizer with nitrogen or phosphorus

TAMPA — The Tampa City Council will soon consider banning the sale and use of fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus during the summer rainy season.

The goal is to keep these chemical nutrients from being washed into Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough River and local lakes and streams, where they can feed the growth of harmful algae blooms.

A recent study of Old Tampa Bay by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program identified fertilizers used on surrounding urban lands as a cause of a growing area of muck in the upper part of the bay.

But if the city wants the ban, officials must act soon.

This spring, the Legislature passed a bill giving the state the authority to regulate fertilizer sales in Florida. Any local governments that want their own regulations must have an approved ordinance on the books by July 1.

So on Thursday, council members voted to ask their staff to draft such an ordinance. If passed, it would be similar to one passed in Pinellas County, which has banned the use of fertilizer containing nitrogen or phosphorus between June 1 and Sept. 30. St. Petersburg has a similar law.

Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission prohibits applying fertilizer if heavy rains are in the forecast, but there is no ban on sales.

The proposed restrictions in Tampa are supported by members of the Sierra Club and the Florida Consumer Action Network. About a dozen people showed up at the council's meeting Thursday to speak on the topic.

"I strongly support you guys putting together a very strong program to reduce the amount of nutrients flowing into the river," said Darren Booth, manager of the Heights, a planned mixed-used development on the banks of the Hillsborough River, just north of downtown.

Even with the proposed restrictions, "I am confident I can keep my landscape really green, my flowers beautiful," Booth said.

Local officials expect to have to reduce the amount of nitrogen flowing into local waters to meet state and federal standards on water quality for Tampa Bay and bodies of fresh water.

Once nitrogen gets into storm water runoff, it costs a lot to remove it, according to the estuary program, which is a partnership of Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties, plus the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater as well as state and federal agencies.

Tampa, for example, is working with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District on a $2.5 million project to remove 696 pounds of nitrogen from runoff in Sulphur Springs by diverting it to a stormwater treatment pond.

"Once (nitrogen) gets in the water, it's very expensive to get out," said Holly Greening, the estuary program's executive director.

But City Council member Frank Reddick asked city officials to present information about whether the new restrictions could hurt business.

"I want to know how many people are going to be affected by this ordinance," he said.

Tampa's ordinance is scheduled to come up for an initial vote on June 2, with a public hearing and a vote on final adoption on June 23.

In other business, the City Council also voted to:

• Ask the city's staff to explore creating a program similar to a Hillsborough County effort that provides partial reimbursement to small businesses that create jobs.

The county's program, started about a month ago, pays companies with 10 or fewer workers partial wage reimbursements for adding up to three more employees. The companies must keep the new employees on the payroll for at least three months. If they do, they can get half of what they paid their new hires, up to $3,900 per worker.

The county estimates that its initial investment of $500,000 will pay reimbursements for 200 new employees. As part of her motion proposing a city program, City Council member Lisa Montelione asked the city staff to look for sources of funds or potential partners.

• Direct city attorneys to draft an ordinance in the next 60 days to require restaurants, nightclubs, stores and other businesses permitted to sell alcohol to post a notice of their hours, special parking restrictions and any other conditions established by the City Council.

City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said the city needs the rule because it has more than 1,000 businesses permitted to sell beer, wine or liquor. On S Howard Avenue alone, there are 24 different restaurants and nightclubs, many of them with different conditions of operation imposed by the City Council.

As proposed, the conditions would have to be posted in the business on an 8- by 10-inch sheet of paper. Tampa fire officials already require a notice of the business's crowd capacity.

City code enforcement director and former police official Jake Slater said the notices could help officers who have to respond to a crowded, noisy bar at 1 a.m. and figure out whether the manager is following the rules particular to that establishment.

"This is a great, great tool for us," he said.

Assistant City Attorney Rebecca Kert told council members they could require business receiving new city alcohol sales permits to post the notices. As for businesses with existing permits, Kert said the city can ask that they post the notice, too, but it's not clear whether officials can require it.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Tampa looking at a rainy season ban on fertilizer with nitrogen or phosphorus 05/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 27, 2011 1:08am]

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