County fertilizer ban stays on books

Ryan Lewis, Editor

Allegan County’s ban on residential lawn fertilizer with phosphorous remains in place.

Allegan County commissioners voted 5-2 against repealing the local ordinance at their meeting Thursday, Dec. 13.

Commissioner Max Thiele, who joined Commissioner Don Black in favoring repeal, described the effort as merely a bit of legal housecleaning of an unnecessary ordinance, which took effect in 2009.

“Subsequent to our passing it, the state passed similar legislation,” Thiele said, noting that counties don’t have the authority to regulate commerce in this way. “State legislation is the ruling authority in this.”

For other commissioners, repealing was seen as backing off on environmental stewardship.

Commissioner Mark DeYoung said “The reason we put the ordinance in force in the first place to maintain proper water quality. I will be voting against repealing. I think it’s proper to have it and, whether we enforce it or not, it sets the standard.”

Concern about phosphorous is rooted in the nutrient’s runoff into waterways. It feeds aquatic plant growth. At high levels, excessive algae and other growth can choke a waterway off of oxygen, harming other aquatic life. Those seeking to cut back on the amount of phosphorus in rivers and streams are trying to prevent the resulting fish kills and odorous surface scum.

The statewide ban, which took effect in 2012, excludes farms, golf courses, new lawns and homes whose owners can prove through soil tests their lawns need phosphorus.

The county ordinance contained the same ban and limitations. It also put the Environmental Health Division of the Allegan County Health Department in charge of enforcing the ban, enabling it to levy $50 civil infraction penalties per violation.

The state law, Public Act 299 of 2010, contains wording that specifies that it preempts local regulation and “a local unit of government shall not adopt, maintain, or enforce an ordinance, regulation, or resolution that contradicts or conflicts in any manner with this part.”

It allows for exceptions due to “unreasonable adverse effects” on specific populations; obtaining the exception requires oversight and state permission.

Laketown Township’s Outdoor Discovery Center greenway manager Dan Callum encouraged commissioners to keep the ordinance.

“Currently, Lake Macatawa and Lake Allegan, are under a phosphorous total maximum daily load placed on us by the state and approved by the EPA. None of our communities have yet met those goals and we’re still working towards it... And the Rabbit and Gun rivers also have issues,” said Callum, who is also a Douglas resident. “While there is a state-level ban, we’re concerned... this will be viewed as going away from environmental stewardship.

“Hopefully we still all believe (the ban’s) original intent remains a priority.”

Allegan Conservation District chair Lon Koops, “In light of the current problems statewide, the conservation board is opposed to repealing the county’s phosphorous ban.”

The district’s vice chair, Mark Ludwig, questioned enforcement of the statewide ban.

“I would ask you: who’s enforcing the state ban?” Ludwig asked. “Are the state police running around checking on people’s lawn fertilization? I don’t think so.”

He said it was better to be able to levy modest fines locally for those flouting the ban and sets the tone for the county’s efforts. “There’s no reason to rush forward with this repeal,” he said.

Commissioner Tom Jessup asked Sheriff Frank Baker how enforceable the county ordinance was. Baker said, “From our perspective, I can’t see our deputies out doing that. Doesn’t mean we don’t support it.”

Thiele maintains that the ordinance is unenforceable.

“The health department doesn’t have the resources to be able to enforce this illegal ordinance,” he said. “(Repealing) does not reflect the board’s or county’s perspectives about clean air or water. It just attempts to clean the house of erroneous legislation that shouldn’t be on the county’s docket.”

So, for now, the county ban remains in place.

Contact Ryan Lewis at or (269) 673-5534.


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