The Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) covered an eclectic agenda on Wednesday, August 14, including recent high profile topics of the Town’s Fertilizer Ordinance and a potential Glyphosate Ban, as well as hearing from a Town resident about manatee safety measures to reduce their Lee County death rate. Chair Bill Veach called the MRTF Meeting to order with a quorum of Steve Johnson, Shannon Mapes and Mary Rose Spalletta.
During “Public Comment,” Beach resident Leah Gregg reported that Lee County leads all of Florida by far in manatee deaths from boating accidents with 21 fatalities. “Collier County has just 3 deaths, so I am looking for ways to lower this number. Council members Joanne Shamp and Rexann Hosafros suggested I attend this meeting to discuss what we can do to be proactive. I brought you guidelines for protecting manatees from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and myself and about 10 other people are happy to jump on the bandwagon in a team effort to meet with boat rental people, to educate them about manatees to really make a difference. This is one category that we do not want to lead the state!”
Updated Fertilizer Ordinance
Mapes reviewed her Fertilizer Ordinance presentation at the August 5 Council Meeting. “I have some good news from the Environmental Protection Agency. Seminole County had a really good idea when implementing its Basin Management Plan over its classified imperiled waterway. It says you cannot apply Nitrogen or Phosphorus lawn fertilizer unless you have your soil tested by the approved lab at the University of Florida Extension Office. We qualify for this on Fort Myers Beach due to our location as an island on Estero Bay that is a State Aquatic Preserve deserving of special protection, to maintain the water quality we have, as all our runoff goes into that, so we are within our rights to ban Nitrogen and Phosphorus lawn fertilizers. I have a copy of the Seminole County Ordinance, with the actual verbiage we will need, so this is happy news!”
With Rae Burns, the Town’s Environmental Coordinator, leaving her position on August 23, Town Manager Roger Hernstadt stated they could hire a consultant and asked that the information be sent to him and someone would prepare a draft for MRTF approval before it went to council.
Possible Glyphosate Ban
Another August 5 Council topic was a potential Ordinance to ban the sale and use of glyphosate on Fort Myers Beach, but they returned it to Staff when Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., reported that the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services informed the Town that state regulations preempted the potential law, leading Veach to comment, “We don’t quite know where we go from here.”
“Council directed us to remove all references in the draft Ordinance concerning pesticides,” replied Herin. “This would arguably take the Town Ordinance outside the preemptive language that says that the use and sale of pesticides is preempted by the State, just leaving glyphosate as an herbicide. This may seem like splitting hairs, but we will go forward with the revision of the Ordinance as directed by Council, to take it outside the preemptive language, and see how the Department of Agriculture responds. We may not be able to restrict its sale, but we hope to prohibit its use within the Town. If the State still deems that preemptive, Council may still say they respectfully disagree and give us further direction and we will see what happens. The state will do what they need to do to prohibit the Ordinance, so we will deal with that issue at that time.”
MRTF Council Liaison Joanne Shamp stated, “You have the full support of Council to accomplish this.” “We are making every attempt we can to do this legally,” added Veach, “but the other side can afford lawyers,” with Mapes interjecting, “and lobbyists!”
Bags, Lights, & Hatches
In other items, MRTF discussed a reusable shopping bags reorder that the Town sponsored for the initial allocation. MRTF will recruit private sponsorships at a rate per advertising square of between $625 and $1,000 with their preference to remain below the latter dollar figure.
MRTF members strongly expressed their frustrations over Fort Myers Beach homeowners who have non-turtle friendly lights or do not close their drapes at night, leading to sea turtle nest disorientations. “Why don’t homeowners simply change to Amber LED Lights? How many homeowners does it take to change a lightbulb?” joked Mapes in exasperation. Johnson added, “People leave their drapes open and lights on all night; it happens all the time.” “Aren’t there fines?” asked Mapes, with Shamp intoning, “We are trying.” “We recently lost 136 hatchlings to shuffleboard lights,” said Spalletta sadly, with Johnson noting, “Fort Myers Beach has a 20% disorientation rate; that is three times that of Collier County.” “That 20% figure is shocking,” stated Veach. “That mean disorientations do not rarely happen, but regularly happen!”
Shamp informed MRTF that at the upcoming August 19 Town Council Meeting, she will ask her colleagues to charge MRTF to not only examine the manatee safety issue but for ways to eradicate the growing iguana problem on Fort Myers Beach. Finally, MRTF voted to award its monthly “Murphie” Good Citizen Award to youngsters Camdyn and Finn Hatch. “I came across them and their family from Kansas City,” said Veach, “as these kids insisted at sunset to fill in holes other people dug into the sand that are a danger to nesting seas turtles and their hatchlings!”
Veach closed the meeting with, “MRTF wishes all our best to Rae Burns on her move to Orlando.” The next MRTF meeting is Wednesday, September 11, at 4:30 p.m.
By Gary Mooney