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Fertilizer ordinance clears first hurdle

Published By: Sun Herald

Staff Writer

Commissioner Fred Tower takes over chair duties

Despite concerns about educating the public, commissioners unanimously approve the first reading of a new ordinance.

NORTH PORT -- Despite concerns from Commissioner Dick Lockhart about the difficulty of enforcing a proposed fertilizer ordinance, the first reading of that ordinance passed unanimously Tuesday night.

The ordinance is designed to reduce algal growth and runoff contamination in city waterways. It will limit application rates for nitrogen and phosphorus, restrict fertilizing to specific times of the year, promote the use of fertilizers with a 50 percent slow-release nitrogen content, and establish fertilizer-free and low-maintenance zones.

The ordinance language is very similar to one recently passed by Sarasota County. In North Port's version, landscaping by hand, rather than with spreaders, will be allowed year-round and fertilizer-free zones near canals will be measured 10 feet from the water's edge or the top of the bank, whichever is greater.

Commissioner Jim Blucher said education was important so residents and businesses have time to adjust to the changes before enforcement becomes necessary.

"But I think we'll be surprised by the number of people who want to go along with it and keep our waterways clean," he said. The enforcement issue was what bothered Lockhart.

"I'm still hung up on the enforcement," he said, adding that keeping residents from fertilizing June through September, when the ordinance would forbid it, would be too difficult. "As we all know, a lot of people come down from up north and they want the green grass."

Blucher said Lockhart's concerns were valid and enforcement would be difficult. But he said those four months weren't chosen at random.

"We didn't pick them out of the air," he said. "It's our rainy season, and there's no need to fertilize during that time. When we do, lots of runoff goes into our waterways. We're allowing (fertilizing) during other times because we don't have as much runoff." Resident Len Wheat, who is running for the city commission in 2008, thanked commissioners for initiating the ordinance.

"Now that North Port is considering the use of the Cocoplum (waterway) for drinking water, it's all the more important," he said. The ordinance would be implemented within 180 days of its approval at second reading. The second reading will take place at the Nov. 26 regular meeting.

"That should give us sufficient time to train people," said Commission Chair Fred Tower III, suggesting a mass mailing to city residents to inform them of the change. "I was watching the news before I came here tonight and saw lakes in Georgia with boats sitting dry. (We should do) anything we can do to save our water."

Passing the gavel

Before getting down to business Tuesday, Tower, in his first meeting as commission chair, recognized Commissioner Barbara Gross for her service as chair during the past year.

"Commissioner Gross has done an exemplary job being chair," Tower said. "She hardly ever missed anything. I chair the (Metropolitan Planning Organization) and I can tell you that being chair is a lot more difficult than you think."

Gross received a congratulatory plaque in recognition of her service and said it had been an honor to serve. Blucher also had praise for Gross.

"I'm the newest member of this commission, and Commissioner Gross and I don't always vote the same way or see eye to eye, but as the rookie coming in, she supported me and helped me with every detail. And if I made a mistake, she quietly let me know," he joked. "My hat's off to Barbara Gross."

You can e-mail Anne Klockenkemper at aklockenkemper@sun-herald.com.

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