M & P Session Hears Estero Update
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council discussed a possible prohibition of the glyphosate weed killer, most commonly known as “Roundup,” at their Management & Planning Session before an empty chamber on Thursday morning, May 9.
Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide to kill weeds. Monsanto discovered glyphosate in 1970 and since 1974 markets it under the trade name “Roundup.” From 1970 through 2016, Roundup usage grew 100-fold in home and garden, government and industry, and commercial applications, with that expected to increase into the future. While regulatory agencies worldwide approved glyphosate formulations such as Roundup, concerns about its effects on humans and the environment persist, with a growing number of regulatory and scholar reviews evaluating its relative toxicity on the risk of various cancers, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency on the Research of Cancer classified glyphosate as “a probable carcinogenic in humans.”
In its “Review of Draft Ordinance: Prohibition of Glyphosate,” Rae Burns, the Town’s Environmental Technician, and Shannon Mapes from its Marine Resources Task Force (MRFT) addressed Council. “This chemical needs a lot more research as a cancer-causing compound,” explained Mapes. “For the sake of those who live on and visit Fort Myers Beach, and to keep our water as clean as possible, we advocate the use of as few chemicals as possible, as Roundup leaches into our waterways.”
More research continues on the cancer-causing exposure of the chemical, added Burns, “so it is not that big of an issue nationally yet. Remember, however, it effects all living things in the water, such as seagrasses and marine life. Seagrass is grass and this is made to kill grasses, and everything in our water feeds on seagrasses.” Mapes reported that on-going studies continue in the Baltic Sea region, Australia and Hawaii, and Germany may soon propose a glyphosate ban.
Smell Like a Salad
Council member Bruce Butcher stated, “If this is cancer-causing, I am surprised it is still legal to buy,” before his colleagues quickly reminded him about similar products like cigarettes. Butcher asked what most professional landscapers who work on Fort Myers Beach use, with Town Manager Roger Hernstadt estimating that “90% have Roundup in their garage” and Council member Rexann Hosafros added that “I see people using Roundup everywhere,” though Burns acknowledged that the Town has yet to conduct a study to answer this question.
Butcher felt this topic difficult “because I tried to buy a product myself without Roundup and went crazy trying to read the ingredients labels. It is so easy to buy Roundup at Home Depot and Amazon will deliver it right to your house.” “We can say not to use Roundup,” said Hernstadt, “but if someone is spraying something from a clean container, we won’t know what they are using. We however want to send the message that Fort Myers Beach is an environmentally-sensitive community, and can prohibit it because we are so close to many water bodies.” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy said, “A ban is one more thing we can do as a community below Lake Okeechobee, as part of our stewardship,” though Hosafros cautioned, “This will not happen overnight.”
Council member Joanne Shamp added, “We are a barrier island, so it is paramount we do everything we can to be good environmental stewards, but first we need a scientific basis for doing this, should someone challenge us, and we need to tie it into the existing Fertilizer Ordinance. I am ready to send this forward to a First Public Hearing once we include that scientific background.” Burns noted “The Town passed its Fertilizer Ordinance in 2008, with no updates since. It is in conjunction with Lee County, as they have their own testing facilities, so we would most likely need to set up some sort of approved sticker program for landscaping businesses and that will take time.” Hosafros cautioned, “The Town will be the leader in this new legislation, so we will have to do a lot more work to come up with that, to set the criteria.”
Mayor Anita Cereceda said that an important component to this program will be “to get out the information, then enforce it,” suggesting details about a potential Roundup prohibition go out in Town water bills, “with the reasons for the ban, to tell people about this.” Hernstadt acknowledged that enforcement could be difficult, but that should not discourage the Town from “doing this aspirationally, to educate, inform and appeal to people to care for our environment.” “Then perhaps Council should do this through a Resolution and not an Ordinance,” said Cereceda. “If we prohibit Roundup through an Ordinance, we must enforce it as you are violating the law!”
Hosafros and Shamp reminded that there are already natural weed-killing alternatives to Roundup: “Mix Dawn dish soap and a few shakes of salt into a gallon of vinegar,” suggested Hosafros. “It works almost as well as Roundup and is a lot cheaper!” “Don’t forget to shake it up,” reinforced Shamp: “Your lawn will smell like a salad!”
In other items, Council received a reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects update from Lee County Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer. “Things are going really well. We anticipate the current Segment 2 will be complete within the next month, with Segments 3 & 4 done in July 2020, and the final two segments by the end of 2021. We selected our future outfall locations and are in discussions with the property owners, and are securing permits, as those are the things that can significantly delay the project.”
Meurer answered Council questions concerning new grass installation, crosswalk design, rough and unfinished pavement, and mailbox replacement, among other issues. Murphy asked, “What is going on with the curve by the Red Coconut RV Park – will that ever be complete?” When Meurer confirmed that will be complete in the next month, Murphy responded, “Psychologically, once that piece is done, people will feel a lot better about everything!”
Council discussed the “Newton Beach Park Strategic Plan” for 4650 Estero Boulevard, with Butcher favoring greater emphasis on its recreational and beach components. He asked as well about the site’s possible name change, with Hosafros stating, “The Newton Family did not donate it to use; the Town paid for it!” Cereceda suggested a potentially better brand would be “The Seven Seas Cottage at Newton Beach Park.” Alison Giesen, the Town’s Cultural Resources Director, reported that the Lee County Tourism Development Council recently allocated funds to renovate the Newton Cottage’s public restrooms and kitchen facility.
Council reviewed the Town’s “Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan” for hurricanes and other potential disasters, including a list of tree-trimming locations near Florida Power & Light transformers and reintroducing some type of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to assist in such situations. Council discussed potential updates to its “Street Performer Ordinance,” including possible merchandise sales; and received Departmental Reports from Community Development, Cultural Resources, Parks & Recreation, Public Works and Utility Department. Council adjourned at 12:11 p.m.; the next Town Council meeting is Monday, May 20, at 9 a.m.
By Gary Mooney