Editorial: Mr. Vail, Mr. Santoro, and fertilizer rules

Editorial: Mr. Vail, Mr. Santoro, and fertilizer rules

Understandably, Oak Bluffs voters have been wrong-footed by the turmoil surrounding the Quilt Fund, the Council on Aging, and its director, former selectman Roger Wey. What to make of all this as they enter the voting booths to re-elect Walter Vail and Mike Santoro, or turn one of the two out of office, in favor of a newcomer? (Two seats on the five-member board of selectmen must be filled from among the three contestants.)

It may be fair to regard this contest as unfortunate, in that it occurs at a moment in town history that is turbulent and confusing, as so many others have been. But the questions that have emerged surrounding the financial management of the Council on Aging and the investigation underway now to answer those questions ought to be regarded by voters as assurance that town management, which has in the past and under the oversight of past selectmen been often calamitous, is now taken seriously.

Better to understand the ways in which the town and the current selectmen have turned a troubling situation into a promising one. This effort to manage town spending and financial record keeping more properly and more carefully is a good thing. It’s already turned cash shortfalls into balanced budgets. With the town on a better fiscal footing, the selectmen, helped to a remarkable degree by competent town administrator, have taken on new projects that look forward to an improved economic future for Oak Bluffs. Mr. Vail and Mr. Santoro have contributed to the decision making that has brought the town from potential disaster to great potential.

Each deserves re-election.

The MVC, doing its job

Voters in all six Island towns will be asked this spring to adopt and implement rules, promulgated by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission under its district of critical planning concern function, that will regulate the use of fertilizers, in both agricultural and residential settings. This page urges voters in all towns to adopt these proposed rules. The result of the MVC’s carefully developed fertilizer protocols will be healthier surface water, including inland and coastal ponds, many of which are plagued by excessive nitrogen intrusion that is the result of runoff from farms, lawns, and gardens. These careful rules will not, by themselves, correct the nitrogen overload that surface waters suffer, but they will ease the nitrogen burden and in the future the economic burden taxpayers will face as they pony up the funds to clean up the ponds.

As compared with the MVC’s plaguey, illogical, and intrusive development of regional impact jumble, here is an effort by the regional planning and regulatory body that emphasizes — even in its statutory language — what the MVC is best at. Here is an effort, hallmarked with clarity and region/town cooperative effort — that will make an important, improving Island-wide difference.


  1. I was part of the group that drafted these regulations, and agree with the need for, and most of the content contained in the regs. I do, however, have several concerns that I think should be considered by all who will be affedted by this law before we rush to approve it. The following is a brief summary of my points.

    Why The Proposed Regulations
    Do Not Make Sense.

    How Much Will We Gain…Really
    Nitrates entering our salt ponds and the algae blooms they cause are of grave concern to all. Let’s look at how much we can expect to accomplish by the passing of the proposed turf fertilizer restrictions. As is commonly accepted knowledge, leaching and run-off of fertilizer contributes an estimated 5-15% of the nitrates that enter our watersheds and ponds. The remaining 85-95% is from the leaching of sewage. We are being picked on because we are “The low hanging fruit,” easy to target. Let’s assume that this legislature cuts the amount of our impact by 100%. Even at 100% reduction of input from turf, 85-95% of the problem still exists. As more homes and septic systems are constructed, the negligible gain will soon be overshadowed. Despite all that, I am still in favor of regulation, and more importantly, education. But, the legislature has to make sense.

    Does It?
    The proposed maximum application rate is .5 Lb of Nitrogen per 1000 sq ft with a maximum annual application of 3 Lbs per 1000 sq/ft. There is a substantial and fundamental problem with this. Most “Combination Products” on the market today, (Fertilizers that have a pesticide, usually an herbicide or insecticide, bonded to it, eg Scotts Step Program,) are labeled with an application rate of 1 Lb of Nitrogen per 1000 sq/ft. If you cut the application rate in half, as proposed by this bill, you also reduce the pesticide rate by half. At half labeled rates, most of these applications will be completely ineffective on the targeted pest, and will be effective only in building resistance to the pesticides. (What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.) This will inevitably lead to additional pesticide applications. This legislature, as written, would encourage the irresponsible use of pesticides. This is, perhaps, a more troubling scenario than the nitrogen loading being addressed. The Regulations would also prohibit the use of Corn Gluten at labeled rates. Corn Gluten is the cornerstone of many Organic turf programs and is used to target the emergence of Crabgrass and other weeds. Again, at the proposed rates, it will be completely ineffective. While there is a provision to allow 2 applications per year at a higher .75 Lb per 1000 sq/ft. rate, the specific timing that is being mandated may or may not coincide with the turf manager’s needs on any given property or situation. In fact, the preferred time of year for fall turf repair and feeding typically begins around August 15th. The language in this bill prevents any application over .5 Lbs until Sept 1st. Can someone give me a logical explanation as to the benefits of this restriction?

    The limits that are proposed within the buffer Zone are extremely low and will lead to a thinning of turf in these areas which will increase leaching, run-off and erosion. Exactly the opposite of the goal. Further, many people, homeowners & landscapers, may be unable to properly apply fertilizers at such low volumes.

    The proposed addition of a “Buffer Strip of Native Vegetation” will be less effective at filtering nutrients and contaminates than the turf removed. Agin, this will increase, not decrease the nutrient loading problem.

    The penalty structure, as proposed, is a joke. This thing has no teeth.

    So, what we have is a piece of legislature that attempts to gain broad, voluntary acceptance and adoption. And yet, it does not allow for people to work with products and commonly accepted practices within the industry. It is restrictive beyond what is necessary and more apt to be disregarded by most as Bull&$@#.

    What I Would Propose As An Alternative
    Simplifying the wording, and allowing up to .75 Lb Nitrogen per application while maintaining the 3 Lb per year annual cap would create a flexibility that would more closely satisfy the needs of many, while still achieving a reduction in overall Nitrogen application. It would allow the users of Scott’s or other similar programs to apply all four steps at 3/4 labeled rates. Although this is still not perfect, and still leaves pesticide rates below recommendations, it would be a more responsible rate with a greater chance of delivering results. And, this would satisfy the annual maximum restriction. (4 X .75 = 3.0) It would allow the casual home-owner to make 3 applications per year, (Average number of applications made by the homeowner,) with the total of applied nitrogen at 2.25 Lbs. Far below the limit. It would give the professional turf managers the flexibility to do their jobs effectively and deliver a quality product to their clients while still reducing the total amount of nitrogen applied by at least 25%.

    Require ANYONE, homeowner or professional, that wishes to apply nitrogen within the buffer zone to obtain a license. This is an extremely sensitive area and anyone working within this area should be required to prove some degree of knowledge and proficiency. Delete the requirement to install vegetative buffer strips and allow 2 Lbs.

    And finally, as it will prove difficult or impossible to monitor and enforce this legislature, the penalty structure needs to be such that it becomes somewhat self-policing. The penalty HAS TO outweigh the temptation to “cheat.”

    I implore all stakeholders to push for these changes before it becomes a failed piece of legislation…a law we cannot live with.

    Steven Anagnos
    Lawn Care Pros, LLC