Jerry Kopel

KOPEL: UNINCORPORATED LAND COVERED, TOWNS AREN'T

Noxious Weed Law or not, Chinese Clematis growing unchecked

Because of a claimed large loophole, the state’s Noxious Weed Act may become an obnoxious waste of time, at least if Clear Creek County’s towns are any model for what is happening in other counties across the state.

Eighteen years ago the act, carried by Rep. Lewis Entz, R-Hooper, passed as House Bill 1175. The bill was a needed answer to damaging weed proliferation across Colorado. I voted for and co-sponsored the bill.

The law gives county commissioners the mandate to eliminate weeds from all unincorporated lands within a county, and the commissioners appear to be doing their job.

But noxious weeds don’t obey lines separating towns from unincorporated land. In Georgetown, Idaho Springs and Silver Plume in Clear Creek County, there has been little effort to rid the towns of noxious weeds including Chinese Clematis.

The reason? I talked to Ted Brown, who manages the Clear Creek County noxious weed program. He stated it was the failure of the mentioned towns to pass ordinances, resolutions or other regulation to remove the noxious weeds.

Brown recently notified all county residents that the program to rid Clear Creek County of the noxious yellow-flowered vine called Chinese Clematis had been completed on Aug. 1, 2008.
I wrote to tell him that the vine was alive and flourishing along Main Street in Georgetown and asked for his help.

We spoke by phone. I learned the county was helpless to act because the Noxious Weed Act had given incorporated towns separate jurisdiction to control noxious weeds within their town limits.

Brown’s report to residents indicated Clear Creek County has “more Chinese Clematis than any other county in Colorado ... If we can treat, it we can eliminate it.”

The county manager of noxious weeds believes the three towns’ failure to pass town ordinances was based on lack of funds. But the Weed Act, CRS 35-5.5, has Section 106 (3):

“The governing body may cooperate with counties and other municipalities for the exercise of any or all of the powers and authority granted by this article. Such action shall take the form of an intergovernmental agreement...”

In other words, the three towns could lease equipment or obtain weed killer from the county to destroy the Chinese Clematis, which would cost much less than purchasing it.

I know this sound crazy, like something the federal government could be accused of. Here is a county commission getting rid of the weed, only to have the clematis’ cream-colored fluffy balls of seeds float by the thousands in the wind out of the towns and into unincorporated Clear Creek County, where Brown will have to do again what he spent county money doing this year.

It is time for legislators representing counties with towns that are ignoring — and not killing — noxious weeds to amend the weed law.

Colorado’s weed law claims it is a matter of “statewide importance,” which means the Legislature, by amendment, can give counties discretion to kill weeds in towns, under rules adopted by the county commissioners.

The Section 108 declaration states: “The general assembly hereby finds and declared that the noxious weeds designated by rule are a present threat to the economic and environmental value of the lands of the state of Colorado and declare it to be a matter of statewide importance that the governing bodies of counties and municipalities include plans to manage such weeds as part of their duties pursuant to this article.”

The weed law, Section 113, also allows towns and counties to declare noxious weeds on premises a public nuisance subject to “such action including removal and destruction ... as in its discretion appears necessary.” Owners of the property could be charged with the cost.

Chinese Clematis moves along the ground until it finds a tree or fence or bush to climb. According to a noxious weed brochure provided by Brown, clematis “has been known to kill large trees by blocking the sunlight.” It kills large shrubs even faster.

If you don’t believe that is possible, take a walk along the 900 and 1000 block of Main Street in Georgetown.

And what is happening in your town?

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.