June 2, 2004Press Release

Group Challenges Madison, Dane County Phosphorus Ban Ordinances

Madison, WI - A group of local retailers, businesses and trade associations announced Wednesday it plans to challenge the new City of Madison and Dane County rules banning most phosphorus fertilizers because the rules are supported "neither by the science nor the law."

The group, representing lawn care businesses, hardware stores, farm supply retailers and the specialty fertilizer industry, said the bans are illegal ? and will do little to clean up area lakes.

"Because the ordinances ban 'weed and feed' products that are regulated exclusively by the state as pesticides, the ordinances violate a state law that prohibits local government from regulating those products," said David Crass, an attorney with Michael Best & Friedrich, the firm planning the suit on behalf of local hardware and garden center owners, the fertilizer and chemical industry, two local farm cooperatives and two national trade associations.

"Local ordinances regulating pesticides are preempted by state and federal law specifically to avoid this type of confusing patchwork of unnecessary local rules," he said. "The burden these ordinances place on local retailers, lawn care providers and homeowners is unacceptable."

The City of Madison and Dane County this spring separately passed ordinances which, effective in January, ban the "use, display or sale'' of any fertilizer containing more than a trace of phosphorus. However, the bans allow phosphorus fertilizers to be used on new lawns and lawns with depleted phosphorus levels. Organic phosphorus compounds, such as fertilizers made from municipal sewage, will also be allowed.

"That makes retailers like me the fertilizer police,'' said Ed Knapton, owner of America's Best Flowers Garden Center. "We're supposed to find out where people live, how they plan to use the fertilizer or make them show soil test results.''

Amy Winters, the Madison spokeswoman for national trade groups RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) and CropLife America, said the issue is about sound policy and utilizing sound science to achieve it.

"We need a science-based comprehensive approach to water quality issues; a phosphorus ban on lawn care products is an easy 'fix' but not the 'right fix'. This piecemeal approach, although well intentioned, is an exercise in futility," Winters said. "Yard and animal waste, construction runoff, and Eurasian watermilfoil are all larger contributors to the phosphorus in our area lakes."

Research shows one adult goose contributes as much phosphorus runoff in a year as 68 average lawns ? and the waste from one dog is equivalent to 91 lawns, she noted. Research at the UW Turfgrass Research Center shows healthy, dense grass fertilized with phosphorus limits runoff "to next to nothing. It's actually better at stopping phosphorus runoff than grass without fertilizer."

Crass said the notices, which are required by state law, serve to place both governments on notice of the claim -- and give them the opportunity to correct the problem before a lawsuit is filed.

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