Toxic Water: Stuart tables, Port St. Lucie passes tougher fertilizer laws to protect lagoon

STUART, Fla. - The Stuart City Commission on Monday tabled its decision to approve strengthening the city’s fertilizer laws, pending changes to the proposal from city staff.

At the same time, the Port St. Lucie City Council unanimously voted to approve tougher laws restricting certain fertilizer use to prevent dangerously high levels of nutrients from flowing into the Treasure Coast’s waterways.

Port St. Lucie’s new ordinance mirrors St. Lucie County’s fertilizer laws, and its adoption repeals the city’s first fertilizer ordinance that was adopted in 2010.

Stuart commissioners delayed their decision until their April 14 meeting, opting to ask the city attorney to make some changes requested by Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum and other environmentalists who spoke Monday night on the issue.

Baum said he was “very pleased. We couldn’t ask for more,” adding he was going to send Stuart officials a copy of the ordinance Port St. Lucie adopted.

The four provisions that passed in the Port St. Lucie law include:

* 50 percent slow-release of nitrogen

* Zero percent phosphorus without a soil test

* A 10-foot buffer from all bodies of water

* A summertime ban from June 1 through Sept. 30

Stuart Mayor Troy McDonald said he wanted an ordinance in place by June 1 that would be enforceable and simple enough for residents and lawn-care professionals to understand and follow.

He asked city attorney Michael Mortell to revise several aspects of the proposal: changing “turf fertilizer” to “fertilizer,” eliminating damaged grass from the exemptions and creating separate sections for portions about exemptions and record keeping.

Stuart Commissioner Eula Clarke asked for the use of 50 percent slow-release nitrogen to be added as well.

McDonald asked Commissioner James Christie, Stuart’s representative to the Regional League of Cities, to try to get that group to establish some regional uniformity on fertilizer control.

Some environmentalists have expressed concern the proposed Stuart law is not tough enough.

Critics of the Stuart law said one loophole that existed was its allowance of nitrogen or phosphorus fertilizers on damaged turfs and/or landscape plants during the summertime.

Baum said the blackout for fertilizer application during the rainy season — June 1 to Sept. 30 — “should have no exceptions whatsoever.”

There was one opponent of Port St. Lucie’s new law as well.

Steven Pierce, who has worked in pest control for more than 20 years, said the city’s law is punishing those in the industry who know what they’re doing.

“I agree with slow release, but I’m not in favor of a nitrogen blackout,” Pierce said. “You’re taking the ability to do what’s right away from people who are able to do it. How are they going to enforce it? Homeowners use more than commercial businesses.”

Pierce also mentioned the golf courses that would be exempt from the restrictions.

Port St. Lucie Councilwoman Michelle Lee Berger said, “We can’t ignore the fact that golf courses do have a huge impact, but if we have an opportunity to improve 1 to 2 percent, that’s good.”

A major function of the ordinance has to do with educating citizens, said Port St. Lucie Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo.

“This is an education piece for people out there who don’t understand how fertilizers affect the environment and don’t know how to properly apply them,” she said.

Still, Pierce said the law benefits some while it punishes others.

“Golf courses will spray more herbicides and pesticides than other people every year,” he said. “Why punish one industry and not the other?”

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