MVC accepts nomination for Island-wide lawn fertilizer DCPC

The Martha's Vineyard Commission offices are in Oak Bluffs. — File photo by Martha's Vineyard Times

In an effort to create unified lawn fertilizer regulations across the Island’s six towns to protect groundwater and estuaries from the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) has accepted the nomination by five of the Island’s towns of a district of critical planning concern (DCPC) called the Martha’s Vineyard Lawn Fertilizer Control district, which would overlay the entire Island.

The nomination, accepted at a meeting on February 20, will be the subject of a March 27 public hearing on possible regulations.

In a press release, MVC senior planner William Veno said the regulations would limit the application of nitrogen and, to a lesser extent, phosphorus for lawn and other non-agricultural turf purposes.

The move to establish local fertilizer controls on the Vineyard is the result of legislation enacted by Massachusetts’ lawmakers in August, 2012 to standardize fertilizer regulation across the state to protect water quality and meet federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. Recognizing the singular and fragile nature of the Cape and Islands, the state gave those areas one year to craft regulations that could exceed the state’s.

Mr. Veno said in an earlier conversation with The Times that the state regulation is designed primarily to restrict the use of phosphorus based fertilizers to prevent runoff into rivers and other water bodies. Phosphorus is a major freshwater pollutant. The use of nitrogen, a major pollutant of saltwater estuaries, will not be addressed in the state law, he said. The local regulations would include more stringent requirements for the local use of both phosphorus and nitrogen.

The MVC assembled a group of Islanders, board of health members and landscapers, that has met regularly over the last year to develop the proposed regulations.

The group reviewed fertilizer regulations enacted by the Nantucket board of health as well as those developed in Falmouth, Orleans, in parts of Virginia and Maryland around Chesapeake Bay, and on Sanibel Island in Florida. They also consulted with University of Massachusetts Extension School experts and used their published best management practices to help guide development of standards for the appropriate timing and amount of fertilizer application for various situations on the Vineyard.

West Tisbury board of health agent John Powers said that he does not expect any opposition to the regulations. He thinks all local fertilizer dealers are on board, as are many landscapers.

He said that many stores have expressed a willingness to distribute fertilizer use education material and already sell fertilizers that comply with the proposed regulations.

Voters in all six Vineyard towns will vote on almost identical fertilizer regulations, the ones developed by the committee, at their town meetings this spring. It is an eight-page article that details the reasons for the regulations and the effects of fertilizer misuse on the environment. If these go into effect they will have the same impact as the DCPC regulations would but only on a town-by-town basis.

A DCPC is a special area on Martha’s Vineyard that is important to more than one town on the Island or to the Island as a whole and is subject to a clearly defined process that includes nomination by one of four town boards; the selectmen, the planning board, the conservation commission, or the board of health or by public petition and acceptance by the MVC. The nominating group is responsible for proposing regulations. There must be a public hearing and approval by a two-thirds majority at town meeting. There are over 30 DCPCs listed on the MVC website.

The DPC nomination paper states that the Massachusetts estuaries project has shown that lawn fertilizer accounts for between 5 to 15 percent of the controllable excess nitrogen in the Vineyard ponds. “Establishing local standards for regulation of fertilizer will retain an important tool of the towns to confront the nitrogen pollution of Vineyard ponds,” according to the paper.

The West Tisbury article reads, “This regulation provides for a reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus going into West Tisbury’s water resources by means of an organized system of education, licensure, regulation of practice, and enforcement.”

Rules for future use of phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers

The town meeting warrant articles regulating the use of lawn fertilizers, which voters in all six towns will consider this spring, aims at a reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus going into local waters by means of an organized system of education, licensure, regulation of practice and enforcement. The question for voters is intended to expand on the protections established by a state law expected to go into effect next year. The main points of the proposed town bylaws include:

The article prohibits the use of fertilizer, including the “weed and feed” products, but not including lime, dolomite, or limestone, between November 15 and April 15.

It also bans fertilizer use before, during, or after a heavy rain, when the soil is likely to be saturated, or when plants are showing signs of stress, or during drought conditions when the turf’s roots are unlikely to absorb the fertilizer.

Fertilizer is regulated at different times of the year to specific concentrations and types of nitrogen.

Fertilizers with phosphorus may not be used without soil tests showing a phosphorus deficiency, except when used with a starter product, with turf seed, or if the phosphate is no greater than 25 percent of the fertilizer’s nitrogen content.

Fertilizer may not be used within 10 feet of a resource area, an area subject to protection under the state’s or town’s wetland protection laws or regulations.

Golf courses are not exempt from the regulations, but get a bit more latitude for the use of fertilizers on greens and tees near protected areas, and they may use accepted fertilizers until December 15.

Fertilizer application for agricultural and horticultural use is exempt from the regulations, as are home vegetable and flower gardens and ornamental landscape use.

The article requires the board of health in each town to offer a fertilizer education program and to determine the level of proficiency of both professional landscapers and of property owners.

Professional landscapers must have a license to use fertilizers. The application fee for professionals is $100. A license will be valid in all Island towns.

Enforcement includes a first-time written warning, a $50 fine for subsequent violations, a $300 fine after three violations. Professionals are subject to a first time written warning and a $300 fine for subsequent violations.