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County to pursue possibility of stricter fertilizer regulations

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Commissioners at the October 26, 2021 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting voted to move forward with scientific and economic analysis to determine whether or not Hernando County should apply tighter restrictions to the current fertilizer ordinance.  

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The existing fertilizer ordinance adopted in November 2013 (2013-34) prohibits fertilizer application during flooding or during a tropical storm/hurricane watch or warning, prior to seeding or sodding, and for the first 30 days after seeding or sodding, with some exceptions. The ordinance restricts fertilizer application during the season of plant dormancy from January 1st to March 31 and is limited to trained and certified applicators using slow or controlled release fertilizer.  Fertilizer application is prohibited within 10 feet of a waterbody or seawall or 3 feet with specialized equipment.

In 2009, the Florida Legislature enacted the “Protection of Urban and Residential Environments and Water Act,” which essentially recognizes the differences in local conditions, and authorizes local governments to adopt additional or more stringent fertilizer management standards if they comply with specific requirements. 

Maureen Sikora, Assistant County Attorney, presented a legal memorandum and analysis of the proposed expanded fertilizer regulations, and turfgrass regulations. 

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The current ordinance does meet the minimum requirements for the Weeki Wachee BMAP (Basin Management Action Plans) for Outstanding Florida Springs.  However, according to Sikora’s legal memo and analysis, “The BMAPs furnish some support for additional or more stringent standards regulating fertilizer use, but they do not apply to the entire County boundaries and they do not include recommendations for prohibited time periods or fertilizer-free zones.” 

The two main requirements for the adoption of stricter standards are science-based findings that would support a stricter ordinance and the economic feasibility of adopting one.  All findings must be made public before the new standards could be adopted. 

Sikora mentioned that legal challenges could be launched in response to a more stringent policy.  She cited the City of Naples fertilizer ordinance is currently in court, on the basis of preemption by or conflict with Florida Statutes. The case is scheduled for trial next month.

At the regular meeting held on January 26, 2021, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) discussed Hernando County’s existing fertilizer ordinance. The topic of fertilizer regulation was discussed in conjunction with turf grass regulation, namely the types of grass installed on residential properties that require fertilizer, and those that do not.  It was stated then that St. Augustine grass is known to require copious amounts of water and fertilizer, while Bahia grass does not.  

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