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Nov 9, 2008 4:25 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Legislator introduces watered down fertilizer bill

Nov 9, 2008 4:25 PM

A frustrated Jay Schneiderman has rewritten and reintroduced his bill to prevent the use of fertilizers near surface waters in Suffolk. But he has softened it to try to get it passed.

The bill died in committee earlier this year. “I was very upset I couldn’t get the bill passed,” he said last week.

“They all know that nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizer are directly tied to algal blooms,” he said of his fellow lawmakers on the Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee—which he chairs. They wouldn’t support moving the bill out of committee for a vote of the full legislature.

“They all know that the Great South Bay was devastated by brown tide this year and the clam population has virtually disappeared from a once enormously productive water body. I told them, ‘You guys have to decide between manicured lawns and a productive marine environment.’”

The new bill, now back before the same committee, is the same as the earlier one in its declaration of “Legislative Intent.”

It still says that Suffolk County “has made great strides in protecting wetlands and surface waters.” And, it still states that “overuse of fertilizers is harming freshwater and tidal wetlands and surface waters” and that “excess nutrients lead to depressed oxygen levels … resulting in harm to aquatic life, an increase in algal blooms and a diminishing of water clarity.” It still applauds a bill advanced by County Executive Steve Levy and enacted last year, which bans the use of fertilizers in Suffolk from November 1 to April 1, but asserts that “more can be done.”

However, Mr. Schneiderman has changed the numbers of the original bill in its prohibition on the use of fertilizers within 100 feet from surface water except where there is a “continuous natural vegetative buffer at least 25 feet wide.” He has reduced the 100 foot distance to 20, and the 25 foot buffer to 10.

“I’ve shrunk the numbers,” said Mr. Schneiderman of Montauk.

“I thought 100 feet was a good setback and 25 feet good for the buffer,” he said.

“I think the first bill was responsible,” he said of the measure introduced in August. “But I didn’t get any support. This is better than nothing. Politics is sometimes the art of compromise.”

“We will sink millions of dollars into seeding projects,” said Mr. Schneiderman of the Suffolk County’s programs of re-seeding bays with shellfish spawn, “yet we continue to pollute the resource.”

A bill on fertilizers that did become law last year takes effect in January. It bans fertilizer applications only in the winter. Its text refers to widespread problems in Suffolk from fertilizers. It says “overapplication and/or misuse of fertilizer products has led to the degradation in the local water quality, and has harmed groundwater, drinking water and wetlands and also surface waters within the County of Suffolk.” It says that “nitrogen loadings to the Peconic Estuary have increased by more than 200 percent since the 1950s due to fertilizers and sanitary systems.” Also, “numerous Suffolk County waterbodies have been added to New York State’s list of impaired waterbodies due to nitrogen over-enrichment including the sensitive westernmost areas of the Peconic Estuary, and eelgrass, a critical habitat, has substantially disappeared west of Shelter Island in the Peconics.”

It directs that “fertilizer should not be applied to turf when ground is likely to be frozen, or when grass is not actively growing, so … fertilizer use on turf should be banned in cold-weather months, and public education and outreach should be utilized to prevent application during periods of summer dormancy.”

There are exemptions for “farm operations” and also that county golf courses can continue to use fertilizers but “only the minimum amount” needed “to sustain health turf.”

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