Two months after Stafford Township adopted the region’s first ordinance regulating fertilizer usage to protect the Barnegat Bay watershed, other communities, some as far away as California, are trying to follow the township’s lead.
In Ocean County, Long Beach Township quickly moved to adopt its own version in January, while every other town on Long Beach Island is considering doing the same. Barnegat, Ocean and Toms River townships are among mainland townships studying the laws.
“I’m sure we’re going to end up with something,” Ocean Township Mayor Joseph Lachawiec said.
Government officials in Cumberland, Gloucester, Atlantic and Monmouth counties have also requested copies. So has an official from Hollywood, Calif.
“It’s taken off even more than I ever expected, actually,” said Stafford Councilman John Spodofora, who spearheaded the town’s effort to approve its ordinance.
Spodofora pushed the town to adopt its ordinance as soon as possible while it waited for the state to address the issue. A pair of bills, with requirements more stringent than Stafford’s, are now being considered in the Legislature.
Stafford’s ordinance isn’t the first in the state regarding fertilizer use: Last August, communities along the Passaic River passed similar ordinances. But the Stafford ordinance is the first in the region and has captured the attention of towns along the shore and points south.
While the severity of pollution in the Barnegat Bay watershed is worse than in the tributaries and bays in Atlantic and Cape May counties, environmentalists say the entire state faces issues with chemical runoff from fertilizer.
“We’re all in the same boat,” said Tom Beaty, president of the LBI-based nonprofit Alliance for a Living Ocean. “We have to start taking these small steps towards addressing this huge problem.”
Stafford’s ordinance regulates what kind of fertilizers residents can use and when they can apply them, aiming to reduce the amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen that cause excessive plant growth in waterways — plants that suck up oxygen and change sea-life habitat.
The ordinance bans the application of fertilization from Dec. 15 to Feb. 15 as well as the use of fertilizer containing phosphorous unless a soil test shows a particular area needs the nutrient.
Long Beach Township deleted an item contained in Stafford’s ordinance that requires a person from each landscaping company that applies fertilizer in the township to complete a township-run course explaining the regulations and then supervise that company’s applications.
Long Beach Township, the largest municipality on Long Beach Island, also added language allowing phosphorous on its dunes to boost the growth of dune grass.
Stafford doesn’t expect to start holding its classes for landscape professionals until mid-March. Spodofora has met with representatives from stores such as Home Depot that want to make sure they have the right products for sale when the ground finally thaws.
“I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback,” Spodofora said, adding he has appointments lined up with local landscapers to explain the laws to them as well.
Many towns and county governments are waiting for the state to adopt a uniform law throughout the state, which Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, and Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, Somerset, have said they would like to see the Legislature approve this year.
McKeon said identical preliminary versions of their bills have been introduced, but they expect to hold at least one more hearing on the proposals to iron out the complexities of the chemical formulas being controlled.
“I guess the bottom line is there’s a lot of bad stuff in fertilizers that’s getting into water, and Barnegat Bay is the poster child for what can happen. ... And we need to do something about it,” he said.
He said his and Smith’s goal would be to get a bill on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk to sign by July.
Those measures will be much more restrictive than those being considered on the local and county levels, outright banning some types of fertilizers from sale throughout the state.
Beaty said that legislation will be much tougher than the kind his organization is campaigning for all of LBI’s towns to adopt.
“What we’re pushing for is just common sense,” he said. “If people would just read the directions on the bag, they would be fine, but people don’t want to be dictated to — it’s a ‘don’t tell me what to do with my lawn’ type thing.
“But that might be what we have to do to save Barnegat Bay.”
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