Featured Story

Shelter Island seeking limits on fertilizers: Strategies on educating the public and/or legislation

Should Shelter Island concentrate on education or legislation, or both, to impose limits on the use of fertilizers?

A town committee has been looking into regulating the application of fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium, which can migrate into the groundwater and surface waters.

The general consensus advocated by Water Advisory Committee member Lisa Shaw was that a two-pronged approach is necessary. Accordingly, a subcommittee on fertilizer use has been working on a brochure to educate the public and a proposal for legislation.

The question put before the Town Board Tuesday was should Ms. Shaw focus on the brochure nearing completion as an educational tool to raise public awareness of the dangers of fertilizer use, while noting that the legislative draft wasn’t ready for prime time?

Despite Ms. Shaw’s emphasis on how legislation was important to the effort, the question wasn’t really answered by the WAC on Monday.

But by Tuesday at the Town Board meeting, the discussion was focused primarily on getting feedback from Board members. Deputy Supervisor Meg Larsen pushed for education, not punishment for violations. Councilman Albert Dickson said he considers regulation vital.

New York State and Suffolk County have legislation limiting fertilizer use, but Ms. Shaw said she thinks there are distinctions unique to Shelter Island that require local legislation. Town Attorney Stephen Kiely said it would be necessary to contact the state with proposed legislation to see if permission is granted to adopt a local code more strict than what the state allows.

The state restricts use of fertilizers with phosphorous unless a new lawn is being established, or a soil test proves the lawn is low on phosphorous. The state bans fertilizer use from Dec. 1 through April 1, and Suffolk County bans use from Nov. 1 to April 1. That would be in line with what the town’s draft contains.

The state code bans use within 20 feet of waterways, while the town’s draft calls for a ban within 100 feet. Ms. Shaw said the WAC is pushing for a ban within public well zones, but the town has no such zones. Mr. Kiely said the zones would have to be established for the legislation to include such a ban.

The state indicates a maximum fine for violations at $1,000, while the town draft calls for doubling that fine.

Another discussion ensued around who would enforce legislation. The Building Department has only one, part-time enforcement officer.

The original intent of the effort was education, Ms. Larsen said. At the same time, asking people to provide a soil test that would be simply filed with the Building Department shouldn’t be a major undertaking, she said. “We don’t want to become a nanny state” looking over everyone’s shoulder. Ms. Shaw agreed, saying she wants to keep it simple.

As with the state and county, the town’s legislation would also have to contain exemptions for farms and nurseries, Mr. Kiely said.

The Town Board will continue to discuss the issue, fully supportive of the educational effort and willing to continue to explore legislation.