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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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
“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.
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
“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
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
If anyone has questions about navigating the lines of
communication with Kitsap County or other local government entities
(including schools), you can email me, email@example.com.
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