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A hearing by the Stevens County Commissioners last week to "discuss options and alternatives to noxious weed control in Stevens County" and to determine if the resolution that activated the Stevens County Weed Board "should be repealed," was attended by many members of the public that testified in support of the board.

In fact, many of the attendees were confused about why the hearing was being held. The question from attendee Ed Grimm, "Why are we trying to disband the weed board?" was met with strong applause. Stevens County Commissioners Don Dashiell, Steve Parker and Wes McCart declined to answer the question. McCart said the Commissioners were "just here to listen." He also said that the hearing was not about Stevens County sidestepping its obligation to address noxious weeds.

"This is about exploring alternatives and options for weed control. It is not about if Stevens County is going to stop addressing noxious weeds. We know that is required by law," said McCart.

Commissioner Steve Parker did open the hearing by apologizing that the commissioners had not dialoged with the weed board before having the public hearing.

"We skipped that step," he said.

Testimony the commissioners received from attendees at the April 7 hearing ranged from landowners who had worked with the weed board like Susan Chamberlain who were "dazzled and amazed by the amount of information offered" to two former county commissioners, Tom McKern and Merrill Ott, cautioning the current commissioners not to do away with the board.

"The weed board provides very good service and I would be very upset to see that service deteriorate," said McKern who served as commissioner from 1987 to 1994. McKern also noted that biological control efforts utilized by the weed board had saved him "onerous expense."

Former Stevens County Commissioner Merrill Ott who served from 2003 to 2010 told the current board, "You have an efficient weed board and compliant weed board. Take some time to do the research on the implications of doing away with the program. We don't want to see neighboring counties coming after us."

Weed board representatives from neighboring counties did attend, including Anna Lyon from the Okanogan County Weed Board who said Okanogan County faces challenges from neighboring Douglas County that does not have a weed board.

"We are inundated with weeds from Douglas County and get calls from landowners in that county who want assistance, but we can't provide it to them," said Lyon. "We know there are some concerns about the way the letter is worded that is sent out to people in Stevens County with problem weeds, but in our experience a strongly worded letter gets people thinking about stuff."

Lyons was referencing the "courtesy weed notice" the Stevens County Weed Board sends out when a noxious weed outbreak area is identified. The "courtesy weed notice" asks the landowner to contact the weed board within 10 days with their plans to mitigate the spread of the weed. If the department is not contacted within that time frame, the weed notice warns that enforcement actions may be taken.

The five volunteers who make up the weed board and represent five different districts of the county also testified, sharing the amount of time they had donated to serving on the weed board. Time donated ranged from 43 hours from board member Butch Sager to 443 hours from board member Eric Berg. The testimony from the weed board directors was best summed up by a comment made by Berg, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Some areas of concern for the commissioners, based on questions they asked those testifying, seemed to be tied to the weed board budget.

"If you have a $260,000 a year budget, why is only $2,200 being spent on cost share programs for landowners?," Commissioner Don Dashiell asked.

Weed Board Coordinator Cindy Jennings explained that the remainder of the budget outside of cost share is spent largely on staff that flag and spray weeds, along with hand pulling difficult weeds like sandbur.

Following the hearing, Commissioner Dashiell told

The Independent

in a phone interview that the public hearing was not representative of the complaints the Commissioners generally receive about the weed board.

"We get more complaints about the weed board than we do about the assessor's staff or about roads," he said.

He also noted that the Commissioners have tried on multiple occasions in the past to relate to those working for or volunteering on the weed board what the community concerns are.

"When we interviewed the newest weed board volunteers, we shared with them what many people in the county think about how the weed board works," he said. "We have been told that there are elderly residents in the county who get a notice and are on oxygen out crawling on their hands and knees trying to pull a weed they can't find because a blanket weed notice was sent to an entire area."

Dashiell said the commissioners will meet with the Stevens County Weed Board and the weed board coordinator before the next public hearing.

The Commissioners have continued the weed board hearing to April 28 at 3 p.m. at the Stevens County Sheriff's Ambulance Training Center located at 425 N. Highway in Colville.

No further oral testimony will be accepted at the hearing, but written comment will be accepted. For more information, call 684- 3751.

By Jamie Henneman, The Independent Staff

 
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The Chewelah City Council recently revised parts of the city municipal code by repealing outdated regulations applying to the sale of malt liquor, public dances and pinball machines. They also repealed a 1984 ordinance that outlined the creation of a civilian auxiliary police force.

Mayor Dorothy Knauss said when reviewing the city municipal code, she found discrepencies between city procedures and the policies outlined in the code.

"When I took office I looked at the Chewelah Municipal Code and found several sections which are either no longer applicable, or needed some review," she said. "I created a Code Review Committee to study each issue and make recommendations to the full council."

Mayor Knauss appointed John May to chair the committee with council members Sharon Ludwig and Payton Norvell serving on the committee that meets once a month.

The committee recommendations to the Chewelah City Council at the April 2 meeting included repealing a number of ordinances on the books, including the guidelines for an auxiliary civilian police force in Ordinance 2.64. The ordinance would have allowed for a "reserve police force" of up to 20 members appointed by the city police chief and subject to approval by the mayor. Volunteers for the service were required to spend 16 hours a month in volunteer time, create training and take an oath of office. The reserve force opportunity was open to both men and women.

The City Council also repealed less serious items including a 1930 restriction on public dances in ordinance 5.08 that required dancehalls to purchase an annual $15 license from the city, prohibit "obscene" dances and did not allow any dances between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Ordinance 5.04 was also repealed which prohibited any person, firm or corporation to have an "automatic or mechanical devise for public or private amusement" such as a "pinball machine, slot machine or other similar devises where there is an element of skill or chance" without a license from the city. The 1972 ordinance called for the fee to range from $15 to $25.

Two more ordinances that were on the chopping block for the April 2 meeting were Ordinance 5.16 from 1984 that restricted the sale of malt liquor by private parties (selling more than seven gallons required a city license and a sale over 20 gallons meant the seller had to notify the police), and Ordinance 5.12 from 1934 required owners of second hand stores to keep a record of all sales for inspection on demand by the city. Second hand stores were also prohibited from accepting items from, "any minor or incompetent person."

Mayor Knauss said residents are unlikely to experience many effects from the code revisions.

"These particular sections deal with things we no longer do, except for one. For instance, we no longer have an auxiliary police force; we no longer license public dances or allow sales of 'kegs', The bookkeeping requirements for second hand stores were totally unreasonable and unenforceable," she explained. "After Jan 2015 we will no longer license mechanical amusement devices. The council enacted that ordinance back when we had a lot of devices (pinball machines, etc) in town. Some of the ordinances were from the early 1900s. It was just time to update. My goal is to have our code updated so we are following what is written. If something doesn't make sense we need to change or delete it."

For more information about the Chewelah City Council, visit www. cityofchewelah.org or call 935- 8311.

By Jamie Henneman, The Independent Staff

 

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