The Knox County Commissioners on Tuesday moved forward with changes to its Invasive Species Ordinance, ones they’ve been considering for months.
The commissioners made three changes to the ordinance, which prohibits the sale of 64 invasive species of plants, trees and grasses.
The first — and biggest — of those changes is one that allows local vendors to sell these now prohibited species to clients living outside Knox County.
In its first full year, a handful of business owners expressed frustration that they couldn’t sell invasive species to customers living outside Knox County, so commissioner Trent Hinkle suggested months ago that they take a second look at the legislation.
The amendment to the ordinance now allows for the sale of these invasive species to clients living outside Knox County; that clarification, Hinkle argued, was necessary.
The amendment does, however, place additional burdens on the business owner, specifically in carefully storing the prohibited species and tagging them appropriately, complete with the client’s name and job number, explained county attorney Andrew Porter.
Those records, too, will need to be made available during any surprise inspections by county officials.
The second amendment shortens the terms of those who serve on the Invasive Species Board — the ordinance’s enforcement arm — from five years down to three, and a third change offers a clearer definition of “point of sale,” Porter said.
Some vendors sell off-site, so the ordinance now reaches to any point of sale, whether it be at a brick-and-mortar location or at a vendor’s market.
Commissioner Kellie Streeter called the changes “good” and said they “reflect our mission as a county.”
It’s what’s best, she said, for the county’s vendors and eliminates what was previously deemed by them as overreach.
“The ordinance was meant to protect our environment in Knox County and to help combat the issues we were having with invasive species,” Streeter said, “so we can stop any further damage.
“It was never meant to create or impose control upon our vendors,” she said. “It was never meant to strong arm business.”
Will Drews, the county’s natural resource specialist who serves as the enforcement officer for the Invasive Species Ordinance, was not at the commissioners meeting Tuesday, but he has repeatedly discouraged the commissioners from allowing local vendors to sell invasive species to clients living outside Knox County.
Drews has argued that the county should be doing all it can to prevent the sale of invasive species everywhere, perhaps especially in nearby counties. Given the rate and distance many of them spread, they will likely end up here anyway, he has said.
Ray Chattin, a volunteer with the Knox County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, has also urged the commissioners in previous meetings to proceed with caution.
As many as 70 new CISMA organizations are being formed across the state, and more invasive species ordinances are possible, if not likely.
The CISMA group last year alone volunteered more than 400 hours of their time removing invasive species from public areas of Knox County.
The Invasive Species Ordinance passed in August of 2018 and was the first terrestrial invasive plant regulation in Indiana. It went into effect in January of 2020.
A separate Invasive Species Board was created by the county commissioners to handle the enforcement of the ordinance, should local businesses find themselves in repeated non-compliance, which happened only once in 2020.
Drews does the on-site inspections.
A relatively new state law does prohibit the sale of several invasive species of plants, grasses, trees and shrubs as well, although Knox County’s ordinance is more comprehensive.