Members of the county's new Invasive Species Board met for the first time Tuesday to begin hashing out the details of a first-0f-its-kind ordinance prohibiting the sale of invasive plant species.
“Eyes are on us,” county attorney Yvette Kirchoff told the board gathered in the commissioners' room at the Knox County Courthouse. “I've had a lot of requests (from other counties) for our ordinance. They want to know how we're approaching this.
“A lot of people are looking to us,” she said.
The commissioners this summer passed the state's first local invasive species ordinance then, months later, set up a 5-member board as its hearing authority.
It won't go into effect, however, until 2020.
Will Drews, the county's natural resource specialist, has been its driving force, and he will be the one to enforce it, essentially working with local nurseries, grocery stores, etc. to be sure they understand what can and can't be sold in the way of plants — and the fines that could be imposed if they don't comply.
Should Drews find a local business to be in non-compliance — and the business owner disagrees — he or she can take their argument first to the Invasive Species Board. If there is still a dispute, the ordinance allows a judicial review in Knox County Superior Court II.
Drews is hopeful, however, that convening the board won't often be necessary.
Since he sent out the ordinance and the list of more than 60 prohibited species, he's heard no complaints from local business owners.
“No negative feedback,” he told the board matter-of-factly. “I've actually gotten no feedback at all. So that's why I'll be going out to see each of them one-on-one to be sure they understand. There's always the potential that when you see something that doesn't go into effect for another year, you might not worry about it right away.
“I want things to go as smoothly as possible,” he said. “There might not be a lot for the (hearing authority) to do, and that would be a good thing.”
Bill Tennis, a board member and a production supervisor at Landscapes by Dallas Foster, said Foster himself is aware of the pending changes and is “on board” with the ordinance.
When asked by Kirchoff if he had heard any other “scuttlebutt” among local businesses, Tennis said he hadn't.
A similar state bill — one authored by officials with the state Department of Natural Resources — is expected to be signed into law sometime this year, Drews said. That law prohibits the import of 64 invasive species into the state.
The county's list of invasive species, however, is longer and “more comprehensive,” Drews said.
The county's ordinance goes into effect in January of 2020; the state's will likely follow in the spring of 2020.
And the added layer of prohibition, Drews said, is likely to make local enforcement even easier.
The board agreed to meet quarterly throughout the year as Drews makes contact with local businesses about the pending changes. On Tuesday, they agreed to stick with the list of invasive species included in the original ordinance. Should it need to be modified — species added or taken off — that can be done later, members agreed.
“We just want to get organized because Will has alerted (business owners) saying this is coming,” Kirchoff said. “So don't keep buying or ordering those prohibited plants.
“And I think you'll want to meet a few times,” she said to board members, “to discuss how things are going so you're ready to take off running when the ordinance goes into effect.”
Drews indicated he will do random inspections of local nurseries and stores next year to check for non-compliance. He figures, too, a handful of “active gardeners” and friends will alert him to any problems along the way.
Some, he said, will be relatively easy as they receive one big shipment of plants before the spring season. Others, like Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse or Walmart and even Dallas Foster, receive several, smaller shipments throughout the year and will require more frequent inspections.
The board also spoke briefly about what would be done with any invasive species found during those inspections. That's still something to be decided, Drews said, although it's possible businesses will have the option of sending them back to a distributor. If not, they can be disposed of in the city's compost site behind the girl's softball diamond.
The fine for being found in non-compliance, too, is steep at $2,500 for the first offense. Penalty for a second offense, however, is a much harsher: $7,500 per day until they are in compliance.
The primary argument for the adoption of such an ordinance was in that invasive species often grow with wild abandon and threaten to overtake the state's natural flora. Many of them have no natural predators here so get out of control rather quickly, spreading to ditches, fields, creeks and even parks.
Some common ones are the wintercreeper, Japanese honeysuckle and burning bush, among others.
The board members are local farmers Mike Brocksmith and Kenny Risley, Larry Sutterer, a member of the Natural Gardeners Club, Jennifer Nettles, an instructor in Vincennes University's Department of Geoscience, Agriculture and Horticulture, and Tennis.