Whether Sebastian will have a more stringent fertilizer ordinance will get its first test Wednesday night.
Council members will decide whether the city’s current fertilizer ordinance based on the state’s “Florida Friendly” model is adequate enough to protect the lagoon from nitrogen runoff from fertilizer, or an ordinance with blackout periods for fertilizer application is necessary. The original ordinance was among the first in the county when it was passed by the City Council in May 2012.
The proposed ordinance would prohibit the application of fertilizer from June 1 to Sept. 30, similar to the ordinance already in place in Indian River County. It would also require all fertilizer be at least 50 percent slow-release nitrogen.
Councilman Jerome Adams, who requested the new, stronger ordinance be placed on the council agenda, said scientist Brian Lapointe from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute presented scientific data at a recent workshop that showed how badly the lagoon is suffering.
“It opened my eyes to the fact that fertilizer runoff is a contributing factor,” Adams said. “Even though fertilizer runoff accounts for a small amount of the nutrients entering the lagoon, the fact is, it is harming the lagoon.”
Adams’ concerns are shared by Councilwoman Andrea Coy, along with newly-elected Councilman Richard Gillmor, both of whom are in favor of a stronger fertilizer ordinance.
“From the lagoon workshop we had, Dr. Lapointe was pretty clear that a stronger fertilizer ordinance is something we want to do,” Gillmor said. “I think it’s going to pass.”
Coy was the sole dissenting vote when the council passed the original “Florida Friendly” ordinance, voting against the measure because she said it was not strong enough. She said she was not willing to accept an ordinance that had no teeth, and she wanted the council to pass more stringent requirements to protect the lagoon.
“The science is there,” Coy said. “We know it’s getting into the river and we’ve got to stop it. The stronger fertilizer ordinance costs nothing. To sit and do nothing for another year is just passing the buck down the road. ”
But Councilman Jim Hill said he hasn’t seen any new information that would convince him that a stronger fertilizer ordinance is necessary, and he feels the city already has a best-practices plan in place to protect the lagoon.
“I think it’s sufficient at this time,” Hill said. “But I am certainly willing to listen to everything that is brought forward.”
Mayor Bob McPartlan said he is interested in “doing the right thing” for the lagoon, but it’s important to explore a variety of options that were suggested by Lapointe at the lagoon workshop, including taking water samples at various outflows were runoff enters the lagoon and creating oyster mats to help with water filtration.
“I got an education as to some of the causes of pollution that were never presented to us before,” McPartlan said. “But we currently have a best-practices ordinance in place and I just don’t think we’ve given it enough time to see if it’s working.”