Better Roads Staff
What happens when budge shortfalls cut back vegetation management?
Once again the weeds will be growing . . . quickly . . . in Rapid City this summer.
But now it’ll be up to the commercial and industrial landowners in the western South Dakota city to pick up the tab for keeping the right-of-ways mowed and tidy along the roads that pass their properties.
Science is potentially part of the vegetation management solution for cash-strapped agencies (and perhaps even the Rapid City landowners) but will it be enough to keep some in the game?
Rapid City made the news nationally in January, when the city council honored the request of the budget-restrained parks department to no longer maintain the sides of approximately 25 miles of “rural” roads inside city limits. The council didn’t enact any new legislation, but rather re-emphasized an existing city ordinance that has otherwise been enforced for residential landowners.
As agencies responsible for roads at the state, county and city level from coast to coast readily attest, money is tight. The ability for them to do what has come to be expected by their constituents is increasingly difficult every year. Roadside vegetation management may be one area where agencies see some – relatively – painless savings.
Where Rapid City’s parks department goes hands off, the work will in most cases fall to independent contractors hired by the commercial and industrial landowners. One of the mysteries in town, Rapid City Journal reporter Emilie Rusch told Better Roads, is why the parks department was even maintaining these “rural” right-of-ways anyway. Nobody, she notes, drops by to cut the grass in front of her house.
“Well, Parks and Recreation in Rapid City was just formed about eight years ago,” explains Jerry Cole, Parks and Recreation director. “It was part of Public Works previous to that, and Public Works back at that time would have Parks mow the right-of-ways in areas that didn’t have residential property on it. We just continued that when Parks and Recreation was formed as an organization in 2004.”
To now say enough’s enough, “the financial reason was a catalyst,” says Cole, but “an overriding factor says, ‘If we have an ordinance, we probably shouldn’t be doing this anyway.’
“Prior to the splitting of the departments, Public Works used Parks as a Public Works entity for streets and drainages. We’re still stuck with the drainages, but we haven’t figured out how to get rid of them yet.” Cole laughed along with us at that point, but we suspect he wasn’t joking.
Back to the roadside maintenance issue.
“Actually I made an administrative decision to do this last year. So, we did not mow last year,” says Cole. “It was brought forward later by the complaint not of an affected property owner, but of somebody who saw the tall weeds that weren’t cut along the roadside and complained to Code Enforcement. It was at that time we felt that we’d better go and inform the city council of what I did administratively last year. So, that’s why it went through city council (this year). We gave them the information, and they collaborated off my decision at that point.”
Since last year’s operational decision not to make the three or four mowings of the right-of-ways under its “jurisdiction” was an administrative one, no official notice was issued to the landowners, says Cole. For 2012, that’s changing. Code Enforcement mailed notice to affected landowners upon the city council’s recent stand, “and they’ll send out another letter in the spring to let them know they are responsible for their roadside ditches,” he says.
The land in question is located in areas of the city not yet filled in by residential development. Landowners not keeping the grass and weeds below eight inches can be subject to a fine. However, enforcement of city ordinances in Rapid City is, says Cole, largely based on a complaint basis.
“I’m guessing that the landowners will hire this work to be done, if they do it. I doubt if most of the landowners have the availability of a bush hog to cut these ditches down.”
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