Related: Deadly disease taking a bite out of St. Augustine lawns

By Steve Plunkett

Town Hall’s lawn is dying, a victim of the sugarcane mosaic virus, which can be transferred from one lot to another on the wheels of a landscaper’s mower.

“It’s a menace,” said Anthony Beltran, Gulf Stream’s public works director. “If your grass is moist when they cut the grass, it sticks to that mower. And if they don’t blow it off really well and then treat the mower with some sort of a water-alcohol solution and let it dry, it’ll transfer from that yard to the next yard.”

The disease can also be spread from shoes that have walked on infected lawns.

Town staff contacted some lawn management companies to get informal bids for fixing Town Hall’s grass, only to find that it would cost $5,000 to $10,000 more than the $15,000 threshold that calls for Town Commission approval.

Almost 13,000 square feet of sod needs to be replaced, Town Manager Greg Dunham told commissioners at their Jan. 12 meeting.

The virus, which is spread by aphids and is also known as lethal viral necrosis, kills only the popular Floratam variety of St. Augustine grass. Two other varieties, Palmetto and CitraBlue, can harbor the virus but are not killed by it and are used as replacements, Beltran said.

The treatment, he said, “is to remove all the Floratam that’s been infected, treat the ground, which they saturate, wait a couple of days then lay the sod, and then treat it with a herbicide.”

“You can’t kill it,” Beltran said. “There’s nothing that’s going to kill it, nothing. There’s no type of pesticide, herbicide, anything that’s going to kill the virus. It’s a virus. ... And the only way of eliminating it is by removing what they’re used to growing in and expanding in, which is Floratam grass.”

Mayor Scott Morgan worried that the virus might be transmitted to The Little Club next door, but Beltran said the golf course has Zoysia grass, which is immune to the disease.

Commissioner Joan Orthwein was also concerned.

“Is this something that the residents should know about? Because who cuts this grass cuts a lot of people in town,” she said.

“Every time I’ve seen them cut here, they do blow off their equipment,” said Beltran. “Question is, do they do it everywhere else they go? I don’t know. I’m not with them.”

Commissioners voted to let Dunham spend up to $25,000 to replace Town Hall’s affected sod and decided Morgan should include a warning in his annual mayor’s letter to residents.

Commissioners also approved on second reading an ordinance adding further protections to the town’s beloved Australian pines.

“This is in response to some work on A1A that damaged the root structure of a number of Australian pines,” Assistant Town Attorney Trey Nazzaro said, speaking of a construction project.

Anyone doing work within 25 feet of the trees will have to follow industry standards provided by the town’s arborist to get a building permit.

“We have to protect the Australian pines. They’re historic, we preserve them and we have to have something in place to assist the town as it enforces renovations done near the Australian pines to protect their health,” Morgan said.

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