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control in Stevens County" and to determine if the resolution that activated the Stevens County Weed Board "should be repealed," was attended by many members of the public that testified in support of the board.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
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