By Erika Webb
Some fertilizer ordinance is better than no fertilizer ordinance, Volusia County Councilman Pat Patterson proposed.
He and four other councilmembers voted at the regular meeting March 6 to move toward a countywide fertilizer ordinance, based on the state model. Two potential add-on restrictions may be forwarded to the state for review and will be revisited by the council, likely sometime over the summer.
Councilman Doug Daniels suggested amendments to the model, including a ban on phosphorus and a requirement for nitrogen to be 50 percent slow release; neither issue has been controversial, he said.
Years of debate have plagued decision-makers.
"What we really got bogged down in was the summer ban," Councilman Daniels said.
He suggested saving that conversation for a later date.
Increasing the distance from water, where fertilizer may be applied, has also been a point of contention. Possible adjustment to the state model's distance parameters will also be addressed at some point in the future.
The last fertilizer ordinance discussion took place Feb. 20, when the council directed staff to draft the ordinance, based on the state Department of Environmental Protection model and to research the need for additional standards to reduce excess nutrients in Volusia's waterways.
Any changes to the state model must be reviewed at the state level, prior to adoption, explained Volusia County Growth and Resource Management Director, Kelli McGee.
There must be a scientific basis for anything above the state model.
Indian River, Martin, Orange and St. Lucie counties all have adopted a seasonal ban from June 1 through Sept. 30, based on evidence that fertilizer, applied during times of heavy rainfall, is more likely to make its way into the water.
Those counties also require slow-release nitrogen, which researchers say, is less likely to leach into groundwater and surface water.
Hernando County adopted a fertilizer ordinance in January of this year, which includes a limited application season from Jan. 1 through March 31 of each year, when only professionals, who are trained, certified and registered with the county, may apply fertilizer, according to www.baynews9.com.
Erica Santella, regional technical manager for TruGreen-ChemLawn and TruGreen-Land Care in Sorrento, has been in the fight for several years. Lobbying against a summer ban, she said the thicker the grass, the less likely nutrient-containing water is to escape into impaired and vulnerable areas.
Ms. Santella was among a group of 23 homeowners, environmentalists and fertilizer industry representatives filling two rows of chairs, while waiting to address the council.
Support for the state model was strong.
Opinions were polarized when it came to adding restrictions versus implementing the model alone.
Jake Sachs, a New Smyrna Beach resident, said the Indian River Lagoon is dying.
"Our water bodies are in crisis now," Mr. Sachs said, before commending the council's efforts to reduce and prevent excess nutrients in waterways.
"The County should not be concerned about overregulation," he said. "If you're concerned the economy is more important than the environment, then try holding your breath, while you count your money."
One by one, several Massey Services employees filed to the podium to say they support the state model without restrictions, citing a companywide commitment to Best Management Practices, to manage water, nutrients and landscape care applications.
Tony Circelli, general manager of Massey's GreenUP Landscape Services in New Smyrna Beach, said the company stays away from bodies of water, blowing plant debris and grass clippings back into the source, keeping the, nutrients where they belong.
He said he is against a summer ban, and explained thicker grass helps prevent fertilizer-laden runoff.
"If we don't do the fertilization at the times of year we do them, we won't have plants for oxygen, either," he said.
Janet Marks, a resident of Orange City, said she supports a strong fertilizer ordinance with a ban during the summer months.
Suggesting the use of slow-release nitrogen, prior to June, Ms. Marks said, it is efficiently absorbed and requires fewer applications, which results in less runoff and leaching to "severely impaired waterways."
She pointed out there are many organic and safe blend fertilizers available.
Since 1996, South Florida jurisdictions have implemented strong ordinances; some companies have switched to using only environmentally friendly products, she noted.
She asked the council to consider the "fish kill, manatee deaths and algal bloom" and said "pretty lawns should not be pitted" against living beings.
Gardenmasters of SW Florida, Inc. Founder and President Michael Juchnowicz and his son, Jeffrey Juchnowicz - the company's Naples division manager - drove for hours to say that responsible environmental stewardship can increase profits.
Ordinance compliance resulted in a $1.1 million annual revenue increase, Mr. (Michael) Juchnowicz said.
"We use less fertilizer in my company, and we're using it more effectively," he explained.
He offered "kudos" to the fertilizer companies that produce ordinance-compliant blends.
"I have an impact on the counties I work in," he said, explaining that using fewer insecticides and fungicides has saved the company money.
There are benefits to not fertilizing in the summer, including "not as much top-growth," he added.
Ordinances, Mr. Juchnowicz said, must apply to everyone, including homeowners, and education is important.
Many, who spoke, advised the council to simply consider the scientific evidence gathered by IFAS, FDEP and DAKS.
Mr. (Jeffrey) Juchnowicz has a degree in Environmental Studies.
Being compliant with all fertilizer ordinances has not jeopardized "10,000 accounts on the other coast of Florida," he said, acknowledging "that's not a scientific solution."
"Jeff, I would say that is a scientific solution," County Chair Jason Davis said. "(There's) scientific evidence right there."
Mary Sphar, a Cocoa resident, told the council the state model ordinance "addresses turf, but will do little for sea grass."
Prior to the March 6 meeting, Mrs. Sphar sent an email to council members.
"(The state model is) the minimum you are required to pass, according to state law," Mrs. Sphar wrote. "It is considered by many to be a weak regulation that simply maintains the status quo at a time when strong, effective action needs to be taken to improve the health of our waterways."
During the past year, the public has become increasingly alarmed by the ecological crisis in the Lagoon, she noted.
Out of the 15 local governments that passed the state model ordinance, 13 have either taken action to strengthen the ordinance or have plans to do so, she said during the March 6 meeting.
She was elated March 7 after Brevard County "passed a very strong ordinance, unanimously," Mrs. Sphar said, in a phone interview.
Brevard's rainy-season fertilizer ban will affect only unincorporated parts of the county and will run from June 1 to Sept. 30, though several cities have enacted similar rules, according to Florida Today.
Mrs. Sphar, whose concerns extend from the Lagoon to the St. Johns River, and the area's springs, hopes Volusia will follow suit.
Chad Truxall, president of the Marine Discovery Center in Port Orange, said the Indian River Lagoon is North America's most biologically diverse estuary.
"We are concerned," Mr. Truxall said calmly, explaining that algal blooms have led to a 60-percent loss of sea grass.
He said a strong 2008 fertilizer ordinance in Charlotte County has proven to decrease phosphorus, nitrates and harmful algal blooms in Charlotte Harbor.
"Thank you for your support of, at minimum, the statewide ordinance," Mr. Truxall said.
Eagley Yachts owner Eric West of Port Orange said he supports the strongest ban possible because, he said, the stronger bans reduce nitrogen in the water.
"If we don't do something to reduce the phosphorus and nitrates in this water, we're not going to have an economy," Mr. West said. "How many tourists will come to the state if it's on national news that we're killing off our manatees and our flippers?"
He asked the council to consider the livelihood of boat sellers, charter operators and others in the marine industry.
Councilwoman Pat Northey was absent from the meeting, but has, along with Councilman Daniels, made her position for stiff restrictions to protect area waterways very clear in past discussions.
Councilman Josh Wagner cast the lone "no" vote. He said he would be OK with the state model ordinance, but is "opposed to the second half" - having the state review possible added restrictions.
"I believe in exemption for licensed individuals," Councilman Wagner said March 6.
The council will vote on the state model ordinance April 3.
State Model Fertilizer Ordinance Highlights:
Content and Application rate:
Requires nitrogen and phosphorus content consistent with state rules for turf fertilizers
Bans nitrogen and phosphorus application for 30 days after seeding or sodding
Establishes application rates as recommended by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences
Bans nitrogen and phosphorous application when a flood watch or warning has been issued; a tropical storm or hurricane watch or warning has been issued; heavy rain is likely; or soils are saturated
Bans fertilizer within 10 feet of a surface water body or seawall or within three feet, if using a deflector shield, and establishes a voluntary 10-foot low-maintenance zone, containing plants that do not need fertilizer
Broadcast spreaders require a deflector shield
Fertilizer must be removed from impervious surfaces
Grass clippings or vegetative matter are prohibited from storm drains, ditches, water bodies, wetlands, sidewalks or roadways
Bona fide farm operations are exempt
County playing fields, institutional applicators and golf courses are allowable exceptions
All commercial or institutional applicators must complete a six-hour training, provided by the extension service
Provide public education