Ban On Phosphorus In Fertilizer Would Not Hurt Golf Courses

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By: Elsa H. Partan
Published: 09/16/11

Mashpee residents, golf course managers and business owners will be prohibited from putting phosphorus on most lawns if voters approve a proposed bylaw at October Town Meeting.

The petition article, which was drafted by George C. Schmidt of Santuit Lane and supported by other members of the Friends of Santuit Pond, is part of a larger effort to clean up the pond. It requires Mashpee stores to hide lawn fertilizer that contains phosphorus from view, keeping it off of shelves and available by request only. The proposal allows the use of phosphorus on gardens, on new lawns, or if a laboratory test shows that the soil is lacking in the nutrient.

Violators of the law can be fined $150 for the first offense and $300 for subsequent offenses, although both the petitioner and a member of the Mashpee Board of Selectmen acknowledged that the town does not have the resources to enforce the rule.

Two golf course managers said the ban would have no impact on their operations because they have already cut back on phosphorus for lawn care. That response appears to be part of a national trend aided by companies like Scotts Miracle-Gro, which announced in March it would eliminate phosphorus from its most popular lawn products. According to a press release, the company concluded that most lawns can “flourish without supplemental phosphorus applications.”
For Mashpee retail stores that sell lawn fertilizer, the new rule would be a headache and possibly mean a loss in sales, two store managers said.

The bylaw is part of a multi-pronged attempt by the Friends of Santuit Pond to improve the health of the pond. For several years, Santuit Pond has been plagued with algae blooms that have occasionally turned toxic, preventing people from swimming or even boating there. In August, state health workers went door to door warning residents around the pond to stay out of the water. An excess of the nutrient phosphorus fuels the algae problem.

The Friends group is also seeking $357,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to purchase a water circulation and aeration system that is designed to reduce the overgrowth of algae in the shallow, 172-acre pond. That petition, which has the support of selectmen, will also appear before Town Meeting on October 17. In addition, selectmen approved a warrant article to take over private roads near the pond so that they can be paved. According to a study by the consulting firm AECOM, both road runoff and lawn fertilizer are significant factors in the phosphorus pollution of Santuit Pond.

However, neither the finance committee nor the board of selectmen has taken a position on the phosphorus ban. Mr. Schmidt, who is a member of the finance committee, answered questions at the finance committee meeting last week, including from committee member Robert A. Chalker. In a phone interview this week, Mr. Chalker suggested that home-
owner associations around Santuit Pond could enforce their own ban on phosphorus.

“Our town bylaws are getting pretty thick,” he said. “There’s no reason to add another one.”
In December, an earlier draft of the proposal failed to get support from the board of health, largely because the board is named as the enforcer of the rule. Board members said that Mashpee Health Agent Glen E. Harrington did not have time to take on that duty. Selectman John J. Cahalane, who said he supports the proposal, acknowledged that without hiring an enforcement officer, the town had little hope of enforcing it.

Mr. Schmidt argued that other communities that passed similar rules saw phosphorus pollution decrease even when there was no enforcement.

This week few of the businesses that would be affected by the bylaw had heard anything about it. After the Enterprise sent businesses a copy of the petition article, managers of the golf courses at New Seabury and Willowbend said the change would have little impact on their business.

“We try to follow those guidelines as it is,” said Scott J. Nickerson, golf course superintendent of New Seabury Country Club. “We would prefer to see it at the state level, but we’re behind limiting phosphorus use.”
Minnesota, Maine, Florida, and Wisconsin have controls on phosphorus in fertilizer. In 2012, a similar ban is set to go into effect in New York.

Mr. Nickerson said that New Seabury eliminated phosphorus from its regular maintenance program five years ago, influenced by the company’s 2003 certification with the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary program. That program guides golf courses to become more environmentally friendly.

“For example, today we’re putting down a product that is 26-0-10,” he said, explaining that the first number represents the percentage of nitrogen, the second number represents phosphorus, and the third is for potassium. The soil contains enough phosphorus naturally to grow good grass, he said. Asked whether he would vote in favor of the measure at Town Meeting, Mr. Nickerson said he would.

David Wood, the executive vice president of Willowbend Country Club, said he is not taking a position for or against the measure. However, if it does pass, it will not hurt the golf club, he said.

“I understand the thought process behind it, to keep the waterways as clean as possible and let them recover,” he said. “I think there are enough alternative products that are not prohibitively expensive that we can use.”
Terry Josselyn, the manager of Botello Lumber, said the law’s requirement that phosphorus lawn fertilizer must be kept off of the sales floor would be a hassle.

“It would definitely make us consider whether it was worth it to even carry such items,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Enterprise. Mr. Josselyn said that, when the Scotts Miracle-Gro 4-step product arrived at his store this year, it was missing phosphorus for the first time.

“It really seems like it is not worth writing into law what companies seem to be dealing with on their own.”
Lance L. Latham, the director of public affairs for Scotts Miracle-Gro, said that the company “worked with stakeholders in Chesapeake Bay” to reduce phosphorus in its lawn care products by 50 percent starting in 2006. By next year, none of the company’s lawn fertilizers will contain phosphorus with the exception of a lawn starter product.

“We encourage homeowners to leave their grass clippings on the ground,” Mr. Latham said, explaining that the grass clippings will release phosphorus naturally into the soil.

Mr. Latham pointed out that organic fertilizer, which some see as synonymous with environmental friendliness, can contain 30 percent phosphorus.

“You can’t remove the phosphorus from chicken manure,” he said.

Like the manager of Botello Lumber, the manager of the True Value hardware store at Deer Crossing said the requirement to keep phosphorus fertilizer out of sight will be an annoyance.

“You’ll inconvenience the resident and you’ll hurt two merchants, me and Botellos,” said Barry L. Panish, who has managed True Value for 20 years. “It makes the merchant the cop.”

The proposed bylaw requires anyone who seeks to buy lawn fertilizer with phosphorus to pay a $35 fee to the board of health “or other town agency as determined by the Board of Selectmen.” Upon paying the fee and showing the result of a commercially-available soil test, a person will receive a waiver, which should be presented to a store owner before a fertilizer purchase. Anyone who is planting a new lawn does not need to pay the fee, according to Mr. Schmidt.

According to the petition article, stores must also display a sign that educates consumers about the bylaw and the impact of phosphorus on ponds. A sample sign will be available from the board of health, according to the article.

Mr. Schmidt said that the point of the petition article is to raise awareness that excess phosphorus is damaging Mashpee’s ponds. “It is a process of education,” he said. “People just don’t know.”

1 Responses to "Ban On Phosphorus In Fertilizer Would Not Hurt Golf Courses"

  1. It is unfortunate to hear that some of our local merchants are more concerned about the "annoyance" this bylaw may create for them as compared to the benefits it will provide to their customers' and their own environment. Was it an annoyance for our merchants to carry phosphorus -free detergents for years before phosphorus was banned from detergents in our state? When I visited several of our local merchants that sell lawn fertilizer, I found that their staff had no idea what the phosphorus in their product was for, what impact it had on our environment, or even if they carried P-free fertilizer even though it was on display. Basically, those merchants displayed a "don't care" attitude, even though their customers asked for the product. Perhaps our merchants will use this as an opportunity to advertise that they do carry P-free fertilizer and that it helps our environment without impacting your lawn. There is also a quantitative scientific study from the University of Michigan that clearly illustrates the advantages of P-free fertilizer use, the rapid improvement of their local waterway (Huron river in Ann Arbor), and many municipalities across the country that have very similar bylaws.

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