Orange County’s landscaping companies with certified trained technicians will still be able to apply nitrogen fertilizers during the rainy season – now – but with some stricter rules and tougher penalties.
The Orange County Commission updated its fertilizer laws Tuesday evening after a long public hearing that pitted environmental activists who wanted a full rainy season ban and the lawn care industry that wanted to keep their freedom to use their professional expertise.
The result is an ordinance that meets state requirements set last year under the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act of 2016 without being as tough as Seminole County but with being tougher than many.
Seminole County, Orange County’s neighbor to the north, won over environmental activists with some of the toughest rules in the state with its new ordinance and much of the conversation Tuesday in Orange was whether they should apply in Orange as well.
They won’t. Orange County has had a ban on non-commercial application of nitrogen fertilizers from June 1 to Sept. 30 since 2009. The end result of that battle Tuesday keeps that ban in place, but also keeps in place an exemption that may unique to Florida, anyone who’s taken and passed a county course on fertilizer application to minimize runoff.
Mac Carroway, executive director of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation, which works with golf courses, lawn care companies and others in the industry, argued against any ban at all, but especially against professional companies.
“The summer blackouts [in local ordinances] are based on a rainy season mythology, and not on scientific evidence,” Carroway said.
Yet most others agreed that fertilizer runoff, particularly including phosphorus, which already is banned unless soil sample tests show it’s deficient, but also including nitrogen, is a leading cause for much of Florida’s water woes, from dying natural springs to massive algae blooms off the Treasure Coast.
“A better requirement would be to ban fertilizers all together during the rainy season,” implored Jane Durocher, Middle Basin advocacy director for the St. Johns Riverkeeper Office. “Every reduction of nutrients that can go into the water is a step in the right direction.”
The ordinance approved Tuesday came with the assumption, pushed by the lawn care industry, that professionals know what they are doing, and if they take care of the landscaping properly, they can actually reduce runoff by assuring healthy root systems. Leave professionals alone, was their message.
Mayor Teresa Jacobs and virtually all of the other commissioners agreed that the county needs to and would do a better job of informing the public about the fertilizer laws most know little or nothing about.
Only Commissioner Emily Bonilla argued forcefully to extend the rainy season ban to everyone, as many of the activists urged.
Yet the commissioners through in a handful of amendments to send the message that they want to get serious. One of those messages was a pledge written into the ordinance that they would revisit the ordinance in two years, once more research was complete.
Homeowners who get caught violating fertilizer ordinances, by applying nitrogen during the rainy season, for example, would get one warning and then fines of $50 and $100 for subsequent offenses. Certified commercial applicators would get one warning followed by fines of $500 and $1,000.