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Sunday, 09 February 2014 10:51

Palm Bay and Fertilizer Ordinance

Written by  Team SCPA + friends of the lagoon

Palm Bay needs to pass a strong fertilizer ordinance

On February 6, was Palm Bay City Council fully prepared to discuss knowledgeably a fertilizer ordinance? Evidently not.

About sixty (yes, 60) municipalities around Florida have already passed a strong fertilizer ordinance with a 'rainy season ban' on fertilizer use.

But, Palm Bay City Council, on February 6, for the second time in about two months, defeated a strong fertilizer ordinance by a 3-2 vote.

'Yes' votes, for a strong fertilizer ordinance to protect the Indian River Lagoon: Greene and Paccione.

'No' votes: Capote, Isnardi, Santiago.

Councilwoman Michele Paccione, assisted by Deputy Mayor Ken Green, spoke passionately on behalf of the strong fertilizer ordinance with a ban on fertilizer applications during the rainy months. Paccione said this was a first step in what will undoubtedly be years of efforts to save and restore the dying Indian River Lagoon.

Mayor Capote has twice provided the third vote that killed the proposed ordinance.

The mayor says he cannot support a 'rainy season ban' on fertilizer use.

Without a 'rainy season ban' a fertilizer ordinance is almost meaningless. Fertilizer runoff into the lagoon is a significant source of nitrogen, and in the summer 'rainy day' months, the problem is especially acute.

At the Hands Across the Lagoon event just months ago, Palm Bay Mayor William Capote enthusiastically signed Brevard Coalition's Indian River Lagoon Call to Action -- which states government leadership is essential to solve the problems of the dying lagoon. Clearly, it is not enough to sign the Call to Action -- especially if you're the mayor of a city!

During citizen comment period, a retired longtime employee and resident of the city of Palm Bay, said she hoped the city would pass a stronger ordinance. She was weary, she said, of apologizing for Palm Bay's failure to act intelligently on such matters.

Another citizen commented that, while paddling by kayak the length of the lagoon recently, no seagrasses were seen from Pineda Causeway all the way to Vero Beach.

The only people who argued for fertilizer, were those from the fertilizer and chemical industry, including one paid lobbyist, whose concerns are healthy turf grass -- not healthy lagoon.


Obviously, the fertilizer ordinance requires some attentive study to cut through the storm of confusing, contradictory information being delivered to over-worked city council members. Much of the incoming stuff is deliberately misleading, with intent to defeat fertilizer restrictions.

Consulting with knowledgable independent science professionals -- not paid industry hacks who benefit financially from the sale of fertilizer and chemicals -- would seem to be advisable and time well spent.

At the December hearing, Dr. John Orcutt, an independent private citizen with an extensive science background and a reputation for honesty and restraint -- told Palm Bay City Council he was available to consult freely with any council member, to help them understand the science issues behind the fertilizer ordinance.

Unfortunately, only Councilman Ken Greene spoke with John Orcutt.

In the roughly two months since December 19, no other city council member availed themselves of a golden opportunity to become better informed on this critical issue by speaking with John Orcutt. That's most unfortunate, most disappointing.

For the citizens of Palm Bay, and others along the lagoon, that failure to seek wise counsel is most regrettable. Some have stronger words for it than that.

In addition to Dr. Orcutt, who was willing to meet anytime, anywhere, almost within walking distance of the Palm Bay City Council, is the Marine Resources Council headed by Dr. Leesa Souto.

One wishes city council members had consulted with either John Orcutt or Leesa Souto. Unlike fertilizer lobbyists, neither would benefit financially, regardless of outcome.


In the last 15 years or so, Palm Bay annexed huge tracts of land.

With that annexation comes added responsibility. Is the city of Palm Bay up to the challenge?

Most of the canals in Palm Bay -- and up and down the county -- drain into the lagoon. What is applied to yards all over the region has an impact on the lagoon.

Will the city of Palm Bay contribute anything to saving the Indian River Lagoon, if they cannot even pass a comparatively simple fertilizer ordinance with a rainy season ban?

The fertilizer part of the lagoon problems is the easiest to fix -- with a simple but effective strong fertilizer ordinance. Such an ordinance has contributed to big improvements on Tampa Bay and other areas, and it's long overdue here on the lagoon.

'Four Tampa Bay communities -- Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties, plus the city of Tampa -- ban fertilizer from June 1 to Sept. 30,' says Be Floridian, a service of Tampa Bay Estuary. Seagrasses in Tampa Bay are said to have almost recovered to 1950s levels, as a result of industry and homeowner practices.

Science professionals say the condition of the Indian River Lagoon is so severe that it is in danger of becoming a big algae pond, which would then be devoid of spotted seatrout and redfish, important for recreational fishing and the seafood industry. Loud and clear: sportfishing and much recreational boating in the lagoon would be dead. Who wants to go sailing in an algae pond?

The lagoon contributes $3.8 billion to the regional economy every year -- if the lagoon is healthy.

In Brevard County, there are more than 90,000 septic tanks. To solve that part of the problem will require informed leadership.

As population figures continue to climb, the lagoon problems will probably become even more intensified and even more expensive to solve.


One wishes Mayor Capote, Isnardi and Santiago, all of whom voted against a strong fertilizer ordinance, had better prepared themselves to understand and knowledgeably discuss the fertilizer issue.

Our focus should be on 'what makes for a healthy lagoon, not what makes for healthy turf grass lawn.'

Palm Bay is required to pass a fertilizer ordinance, so the issue will be revisited.

Next time, let us hope Palm Bay's council members consult independent science people to prepare themselves. And let us hope it won't be too late, and too little, to save the lagoon.


Turf Grass and the Indian River Lagoon -- a healthy lagoon is a necessity; healthy turf grass is not:

Seagrasses and the lagoon -- healthy seagrasses are imperative; healthy turf grass is not:

Sea grass gains good sign for Tampa Bay -- homeowners and others have adjusted for the Bay

Green Sea Turtles in Indian River Lagoon, 50 to 70 percent are diseased:

Florida's Slime Crimes -- algae slimes our waters around the state

Indian River Lagoon Call to Action, petition, sign up local businesses, neighbors:

Floridians Clean Water Declaration Campaign, as of Feb. 9 more than 6,000 petitions signed, add yours:

Be Floridian -- Tampa Bay estuary program provides lawn care tips and more:

Compiled by Team SCPA with input from many friends of the lagoon.
Updated Feb. 9, 2014 at 1pm


Last modified on Sunday, 09 February 2014 11:47
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