It doesn't happen all that often — if ever, in fact — but during Tuesday's county commissioners meeting, much of the room erupted in a surprising round of applause.
The reaction came after the commissioners unanimously approved on second and third reading what is believed to be the state's first ordinance prohibiting the sale of invasive species.
It includes a list of 64 plants banned from being sold, traded or imported into the county by nurseries, grocery stores, chains or any other vendor beginning on Jan. 1, 2020.
The list can be amended by the state or the local hearing authority as outlined in the ordinance.
Will Drews, natural resource specialist with the Soil and Water Conservation District, has been working with county attorney Yvette Kirchoff and commissioners on the ordinance for the past few months.
And just like the other folks in the room for the occasion, including SWCD supporters and district CEO Charlie Ring, Drews was excited to see the ordinance finally come to fruition.
“I just want to thank the commissioners for hearing our concerns and helping us take this matter into our own hands,” he said. “We've worked with a lot of people and we have so many dedicated volunteers who are so excited to get this going.”
The invasive species ordinance was nearly approved at the commissioners' second July meeting. But opposition arose from landscapers and nursery owners.
Ryan Lough, local horticulturalist and manager of Perk-A-Lawn Gardens, argued the ordinance could impact the small business owners.
On the flip side, Ray McCormick, a Democrat running for a seat on the county council, spoke up as a landowner who was gravely concerned with the toll that invasive species were taking on the county's biological life.
After hearing those concerns, the commissioners decided to table the proposal and consider an amendment to the hearing authority outlined in the original ordinance, which specified a three-member board appointed by the commissioners.
They opted to make it a five-member board instead and alter its makeup to specify at least one member of the board be associated with the agricultural industry and one member should be associated with the horticultural industry.
During the second and third readings at the Tuesday meeting, Kirchoff also noted that the board members' terms will be staggered, with one member serving one year, the second member serving two years, the third member serving three years, etc. After their initial terms, all members would serve for five years, or until a replacement is appointed.
If asking someone to commit to a five-year term ends up being too burdensome, the ordinance does give the commissioners and the board — dubbed the Knox County Invasive Species Board — the flexibility to make amendments as needed, based on what might work and what might not.
Following the ordinance's passage, the commissioners will likely get the ball rolling on making their appointments so the board can organize and start meeting in 2019 to talk about the ordinance and its enforcement well before 2020.
“Once this is passed, it will be published several times throughout 2019 to ensure that vendors are prepared for this and to make sure they know that this is coming,” Kirchoff said. “And if the board sees that there are things in here that need to be modified or tweaked, we've got a year prior to enforcement to get those things ironed out.”
Drews told the commissioners that he planned to hit the ground running and get information out to landscapers and vendors as soon as the ordinance got the green light.
“I did not doubt that you were going to do that,” commissioner Trent Hinkle said with a chuckle, alluding to Drews' contagious enthusiasm and energy.
Kirchoff again stressed the ordinance does not include what is already planted on someone's property.
“If you have something on your property that's not on this list, you do not have to go and take it out,” she said. “This is not retroactively applied.”
The list of invasive species attached to the ordinance, which includes burning bush, callery pear and wintercreeper, comprises plants rated medium or higher on the Indiana invasive species list.
Along with the hearing authority, the ordinance also specifies the enforcing authority will be the county's natural resource specialist, who will have the authorization to inspect points of sale to determine whether any vendors are violating the ordinance, once it goes into effect. The compensation for the enforcing authority will be addressed during the commissioners' budget planning process each year.
If a vendor is selling one or more of the plants included on the list after Jan. 1, 2020, the enforcing authority can issue an order requiring that the vendor correct the violation.
The invasive species board, acting as the hearing authority, would then affirm, rescind or modify the order. Penalties could also be placed on the vendor, starting at $2,500 for the first violation then increasing to $7,500 for the second and subsequent violations.
Vendors would also have the opportunity for a judicial review, which would be held in Superior Court 2.