Marine Resources Task Force Examines Town Fertilizer Ordinance

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The Marine Resources Task Force Advisory Board (MRTF) for the Town of Fort Myers Beach will forward several recommendations to Town Council to update the island’s Fertilizer Ordinance. Chair Bill Veach, along with Tony Lubig, Shannon Mapes and Mary Rose Spalletta were present to provide a quorum in Council Chambers on Wednesday, July 12.

In discussing the Fertilizer Ordinance that dates back to 2006, guest speaker John Vuknic, the course superintendent for the Stoneybrook Gulf Club, reiterated his argument first made at the May MRTF meeting that the Town’s current fertilizer ban from June 1 to September 30 is all wrong, and that the actual period should be from December through February. “When you fertilize in Winter, that is the time of year in Southwest Florida that grass does not grow, so it just sits there, doing nothing, and eventually leaches into the ground. It is in the Summer, when the lawns really grow, that fertilizer gets into the grass for the Fall and Winter months.”

Following this presentation, MRTF members discussed potential changes to the Fertilizer Ordinance.

Mapes proposed altering the ordinance to only allow adding water within ten minutes of a fertilizer application, and to limit plastic sheathing under impervious surfaces to reduce runoff. She would like to expand the buffer zones for fertilizer treatments from water sources from the current 3 feet to 25, even though Town Council seems to favor 15 feet as a compromise. “Sanibel has a 25-foot restriction,” Shannon explains, “while Fort Myers Beach is closer to the bay, with a larger population, so we get a lot more into the bay, while Sanibel has far more preserves to filter water through, so we need to match what they do.”

She favors as well increasing the spraying regulation from a body of contained water from 6 to 25 feet, though Shannon can see exemptions, such as for potted plants, and she feels the Town should retain its Summer fertilizer ban, with the establishment of an educational outreach program to accomplish these goals.

Be Aggressive

Chair Veach thought these suggestions excellent, and proposed that MRTF vote on each one individually. He agrees that there needs to be greater regulation over plastic with impervious surfaces, “though I guess an upside to that is the more of that you have, the less fertilizer you will use.” He would like to broaden the definition of an impervious surface, and lengthen the fertilizer buffer zone from an open body of water from 3 to 25 feet, arguing that “Fort Myers Beach has houses and streets that flood with as little as a quarter-inch of rain, and we have the back bay right here, so it makes sense for us to be more aggressive than Lee County is in general.”

Lubig is comfortable with a 15-foot buffer zone, “as some people have very small parcels, and I think Town Council will come down to that, as they are comfortable with that figure. But I will side with those of you who favor 25 feet because why not dream big!” Spalletta agreed with the proposed 25-foot buffer, “and we should encourage residents to grow native plants to help with filtration.”

Chair Veach believes that a strong educational component is the best way to enforce these recommendations: “Large scale operations, like big farms or John at the golf course, do not use a lot of fertilizer because it is so expensive, so they do not have a lot of waste to run off, but my sense is that to the average homeowner, it is ‘the more, the greener!’ We need to be able to educate them that a little fertilizer goes a long way.” He favors exemptions as well for potted plants and raised beds, “as enforcement would be a difficult issue,” with Mapes adding that “you can fertilize these anytime with the exemption, as they are most likely not within three feet of any body of water.”

The Chairman returned to the discussion concerning whether to recommend retaining or overturning the Summer fertilizer ban. “I think there are a couple of reasons why lifting the Summer ban makes sense, but John is a professional and a golf course is a huge area with slow runoff, and those talents and conditions do not apply to Fort Myers Beach. Once the stormwater system on Estero Boulevard is complete, water will run into the bay even quicker. There seems to be the need to recognize there must be a different set of rules for professionals verses ordinary homeowners.”

Spalletta said that if public outreach is successful and people understand these issues, including that grass is mostly dormant in winter months, there is no need to remove or replace the summer fertilizer ban.

Lucky Number 7

With this, Chair Veach individually called each of the seven proposed recommendations to the Town Fertilizer Ordinance.

The recommendation to add the 10-minute maximum time to water after fertilization unanimously passed; the impervious surface modification to include plastic sheathing unanimously passed; the recommendation to expand the fertilizer buffer zone near an open body of water should grow from 3 to 25 feet unanimously passed; a ban of all liquid fertilizer on Fort Myers Beach lost 3 to 1, with the Chairman, Mapes, and Spalletta Against; a regulation to request that no spraying occur near a contained body of water will expand on a voluntarily basis from 3 to 25 feet passed unanimously; the exception for potted plants, raised beds, and vegetable gardens unanimously passed; and the Town should retain its summer fertilizer ban unanimously passed.

Following this, MRTF discussed the proposed update of its Policies & Procedures, as dictated for all Advisory Boards by Town Council. Chair Veach disagreed with one suggestion that removes from MRTF jurisdiction the right to review and make recommendations to Town Council concerning the Land Development Code, as this is currently under its purview. MRTF members will make this decision after further review at its Wednesday, August 9 meeting that takes place before Council meets again on Monday, August 14.

MRTF will not make specific recommendations to Town Council about potentially banning plastics and Styrofoam from Fort Myers Beach, similar to the recent ban on plastic drinking straws, opting instead for a public education program and voluntary efforts to reduce or eliminate all types of trash. This is especially true from the DiamondHead Beach Resort to the pier, and will begin with the beach raking program conducted by the Town on Tuesday, March 18, based on “Enjoy; Don’t Destroy!”

The Advisory Board will put off discussion of stormwater swales until the Town completes its 30% design plan that will indicate which streets can utilize swales, and it unanimously nominated Keep Lee County Beautiful for the July “Murphie” Award for their work to organize volunteers to clean up Fort Myers Beach the morning of Wednesday, July 5, following fireworks festivities on The Fourth of July.

Under “Member Items,” Town Liaison Rae Burns announced that MRTF member Eldon Ridener submitted his immediate resignation due to family considerations. Town Council will address this vacancy when they return in mid-August, with the MRTF meeting adjourning at 6:22 p.m.

 

Gary Mooney