The reference in the title of this blog post is to the book of
children’s poetry by the late Shel Silverstein. Our topic of the
day is neither children nor poetry but rather the intersection of
public and private property and the maintenance thereof.
Act I: Earlier this week on kitsapsun.com, Ed Friedrich reported on a series of unfortunate events that started with a city of Port Orchard road crew and an overambitious blackberry bush. Workers mowing a Bethel Avenue ditch June 4 sliced a utility pole guy-wire hidden in the brush. What happened next was like a Rube Goldberg machine gone wrong.
The high-tension cable sprang up and smacked a power line, sending a surge to a home on Piperberry Way. The surge blew up the meter box and traveled to the breaker box in a bedroom, starting a fire. No one was injured. The city’s insurance will pay to repair the homes and another nearby that shared the same power source.
Stuff happens. Sometimes it’s news. Sometimes it’s not.
Act II: The story of Jack Jones and his six lost lavender plants may not be front page material or even fit for the inside Code 911 section. But it pertains to Kitsap County’s roadside vegetation maintenance program, a topic I’m guessing will engage property owners far and wide.
In the interest of full disclosure, I know Jack. He’s my Tai Chi
instructor. I made a couple of calls to Kitsap County on his
behalf, when he couldn’t seem to get a response about six mature
lavender plants by his mailbox that had been whacked to the ground
on May 28. A couple of plants close to the mailbox were left
standing, giving the appearance that the mower operator stopped
when he recognized they were ornamentals.
Jack had already taken the first step and called Kitsap 1, the county’s central operator system, where staff give basic information and direct traffic on questions and complaints (360-337-5777). When he didn’t hear back within the three business days allotted by the county for a response, I agreed to poke around. I’d do the same for a stranger.
But before you start calling me about your problems with Kitsap 1, here’s who you really want to talk to. Public Communication Manager Doug Bear, email@example.com, is in charge. I’m not saying Kitsap 1 is rife with problems, just here’s what to do if you have one. After all, there are human beings on those phone lines. Stuff happens.
Doug connected me with Jaques Dean, road superintendent for the county’s public works department, who gave me a link to the county’s detailed policy manual on roadside vegetation maintenance. The purpose is to maintain sight distances within the county’s right-of-way, promote drainage off the road, remove vegetation growth that can degrade pavement and remove unsafe overhanging branches. Methods include mowing, use of herbicides and fertilizers, and promotion of native plants over invasive species and noxious weeds.
The document goes into great detail about steps taken to protect the environment and people. You can sign up to be notified when spraying of chemicals is to occur, and you can opt out altogether. You can also opt out of roadside mowing under an “owner will maintain” agreement.
“Our maintenance crews are very cognizant of the sensitivity of this issue,” Jaques wrote in an email to me on June 3. “When we encounter private plantings that need to be cut back for roadway safety reasons, every attempt is made to contact the owner before the work is completed.”
That didn’t happen in Jack’s case.
“In this particular occurrence, the operator simply did not
recognize that these were ornamental plants,” Jaques said. “They
were planted within the right-of-way immediately adjacent to the
asphalt pavement, they were not permitted, the owner had not
requested to maintain, and to add to it, the owner was not
maintaining the area and surrounding weeds. The plants blended into
the high grass, blackberries, maple branches and appeared to be
immature Scotch Broom.”
The operator, who was new to the area, had stopped before the mailbox since it was close to quitting time, intending to return the next day to trim up the rest with smaller tools, Jaques said in a follow up call to me on June 11.
A county road log shows that Chico Beach Drive, where Jack lives, was mowed in August 2009, September 2010 and October 2012. Previous operators left the lavender intact along with plantings of several of his neighbors, Jack said, contributing to confusion over how the county’s policies are implemented.
Jaques explained to me that operators typically work the same area of road in a given part of the county and become familiar with neighborhoods, working around plantings whenever possible even when there is no “owner will maintain” agreement. A few daffodils by the ditch are no problem, he said, but the county can’t guarantee they’ll be left standing. Kitsap County is responsible for 900 miles of roadway, double that considering there are two sides to every road.
“Those people need to be aware the county needs to maintain the roadway and they need to do it efficiently,” Jaques said.
If you’ve got big plans for a rock wall, a fence or a large hedge, the county needs to hear from you before the installation to make sure you don’t obstruct the ROW, he added. These are the types of plantings for which owner-will-maintain are most appropriate.
On June 11, Jack finally heard from road crew superintendent Ron Coppinger, who had not had the correct phone number and who came out to Jack’s house to discuss the plantings. Ron offered to replace the lavender, but Jack’s neighbors had already brought him new plants. Jack and Ron settled on a load of beauty bark as compensation. But more important to Jack was the personal contact from Coppinger from which he took a sense that the road crew is indeed “very cognizant of the sensitivity of this issue” after all.
If anyone has questions about navigating the lines of communication with Kitsap County or other local government entities (including schools), you can email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.