Village fertilizer ordinance fines

Key Biscayne considering to put financial teeth to lawn care ordinances

Residential lawn fertilizers containing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that are believed to be the second largest source of nitrogen pollution in US waterways.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are known to produce algae blooms, which in turn kill fish and wildlife, smother seagrass, clog waterways, turn our beautiful blue water green, and are harmful to humans.

A large fish kill in Biscayne Bay in August prompted the city of Miami Beach to ban the use of fertilizers during the rainy season and near waterways. Miami-Dade County will consider a similar law in March, according to a Miami Herald report.

Miami Waterkeeper, a non-profit whose mission is “to defend, protect, and preserve our regional watershed through citizen engagement and community action rooted in sound science and research,” has developed model fertilization ordinances for municipalities to consider.

“They were the driving force to get the very first fertilizer ordinance on Key Biscayne,” said Dr. Roland Samimy, Key Biscayne’s resilience officer, noting that many area municipalities already follow Waterkeeper guidelines in their ordinances.

It was November 2019 when the village first considered an ordinance to regulate the type of fertilizers allowed, the timing of fertilizer application, and licensing and training requirements.

The ordinance was passed, but the Village Manager was instructed to address the enforcement challenge, using best practices from surrounding municipalities, as well as to gauge community and business reaction to the proposal.

The task will fall to code enforcement officers, but as Samimy noted: “It is easy to know if someone is not following the rules if you see it during the day But it is like speeding laws -- it’s more of an honor system.”

After meeting with Miami Waterkeeper, the village staff in February of 2020 adjusted the original ordinance to reduce the maximum amount of nitrogen allowable per application from 0.7 to 0.5 pounds per 1,000 sq. ft. Continuing in this vein, a maximum yearly nitrogen application was set at four pounds per 1,000 sq. ft., and the use of phosphorus was banned.

The village is preparing to offer educational material on proper fertilization for residents and local businesses in advance of beginning enforcement of the ordinance in May 2021.

“We reached out to the commercial landscapers who take care of the condos with the guidelines for fertilizer applications,” Samimy said. “We also use the Village Connect email system to get the word out weekly to residents.”

In addition to year-round restrictions, the Key Biscayne fertilizer ordinance spells out prohibited applications from June 1 until September 30, due to heavy rainfall and the likelihood of flooding -- and excess runoff -- during hurricane and storm conditions.

“If you fertilize during summer you are wasting money and not helping your landscape since it is washed away before it can be absorbed,” said Rachel Silverstein executive director of Miami Waterkeepers.

Over 80 Florida municipalities have strong fertilizer ordinances on the books, according to Silverstein, adding: “Next week, Miami Dade County is meeting to write a strong fertilizer ordinance for the entire county.”

Samimy said that at its Feb. 23 meeting the village council will consider implementing a new irrigation ordinance with fines of up “$250 for the first offense, and $500 for the second. No warning. There is a 6-month period from approval to the enforcement period.”

Silversein said the progress being made through these ordinances are “a wonderful first step to make sure that we can enjoy our waterways, we will have beautiful clear water that doesn’t have algae blooms, and we can still enjoy the landscaping.”

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