Advisory panels seek new Marco fertilizer ordinance

Sue Keller

Members of the city's beach advisory and beautification committees are so concerned about the quality of Marco Island's waterways that they are seeking Marco Island City Council action on a fertilizer ordinance first proposed four years ago.

Ruth McCann, executive director of Marco Island Civic Association and chair of the beach advisory committee, said a draft ordinance exists.

"The reason for proposing a fertilizer ordinance is the water quality results the city received taken from canals on Marco," said McCann. "They were high in nitrogen and phosphorus, which are the main ingredients in lawn and tree fertilizers."

According to McCann, Marco Island is the only community within 200 miles that does not have a fertilizer ordinance.

"It's of utmost importance as the water, beaches and canals are our livelihood," said McCann. "This also affects homeowners on Marco and tourism. Many take for granted that Marco Island will always be beautiful and pristine, but you have to take the steps to preserve it."

A workshop has been proposed for mid-September to discuss critical issues such as:

• Blackout periods for the rainy season, June 1-Sept. 30;

• Frequency of application;

• Fertilizer formulation, with a suggestion of 50 percent less nitrogen and 2 percent less phosphorus;

• A fertilizer-free zone 25 feet from waterways,

• And a prohibition against dumping grass clippings and debris into waterways.

Maria Lamb, a beach advisory committee member, went before the Planning Board with a proposal endorsed by members of the beach advisory committee and the beautification committee on the rebirth of such an ordinance.

The ordinance first went before the council on June 6, 2011, for its first reading. But it was tabled and never put back on the council agenda.

According Amber Crooks, senior naturalist specialist at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, fertilizers work in the water the same as they do on lawns and trees — they help algae grow and can contribute to larger and more severe blooms.

Putting a fertilizer ordinance in place is one of the Conservancy's major goals, said Crooks. The Conservancy has helped Gulf Coast municipalities with technical aspects of the legislation, Crooks said.

"Over 90 municipalities in Florida have a fertilizer ordinance in place," said Crooks. "Seventy five percent of them have a strong ordinance that is more protective than the state model."

The city's process for proposed ordinances is that initiatives first go to the advisory committees and then on to the City Council for review.