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County adds teeth to weed enforcement policy

Commission adopts ordinance allowing weed control officers to issue $600 citations

by: Contributed - Steve Davis, one of two county weed control officers, sprays chemicals on a noxious plant nearly 10 feet tall near Gateway.

News Editor
   March 12, 2003 — The Jefferson County Commission approved last week approved a Noxious Weed Control Ordinance that officials hope will give them more strength to eliminate pesky plants.
   In a 2-0 vote, commissioners Mary Zemke and Bill Bellamy adopted the ordinance that will allow the county's weed control officers to issue $600 fines to individuals in noncompliance. Commission Chairman Walt Ponsford did not attend the meeting.
   Noxious weeds are plants known to be injurious to public health, crops, livestock, land or other property.
   Weed control is the responsibility of the county's Public Works department. Prior to the ordinance's adoption last Wednesday, Public Works Director Mike McHaney said the county relied on a state ordinance that he characterized as "cumbersome and slow."
   It involved a drawn-out process that involved the clerk's and district attorney's offices.
   "Most people, when we put them on notice, will jump on the bandwagon and do something," McHaney said. "But some don't. We've found that we have some chronic violators."
   The commissioners expressed some reservations to the ordinance because it involves public workers enforcing measures on private lands, but adopted it after some minor changes.
   "If it's done the wrong way, it feels intrusive," Zemke cautioned.
   Bellamy added an amendment that requires weed control officers to advise the commission before they issue a hefty citation.
   "My concern is if we had an overzealous person, they could get the county commission in hot water and we wouldn't know it's even coming," Bellamy said.
   No citation ever has been issued for noxious weeds in Jefferson County, which is one of 15 counties with a weed control program.
   Public Works' two weed control officers, Floyd Paye and Steve Davis, said land owners found with noxious weeds will be given ample time to remedy the situation before being cited.
   "A lot of people don't know there's a problem until we tell them," Paye said.
   Under the ordinance, land owners can remove their noxious weeds or leave the task to the weed control officers. The Public Works department will bill property owners for the cost of chemicals, equipment and labor -- which can total between $50 and $100 per acre.
   There are 99 designated noxious weeds in Oregon. Jefferson County's list totals 44, including scotch thistle, wild carrots and rush skeletonweed (see accompanying list).
   Paye said the county's nonresident land owners are most often found in noncompliance.
   He said 21 of Oregon's 99 designated noxious weeds caused $83 million in economic losses in 1999.
   "Noxious weeds have been known to kill livestock when they grow in alfalfa," Paye said.
   There are several resources on noxious weeds. The Public Works department, at 475-4459, can answer questions. A telephone resource is available at 1-800-INVADER or visit www.oregonweeds.com on the Web.