The Knox County Invasive Species Board voted on Wednesday to show mercy to a local business owner found to be in violation.

The group, appointed by the Knox County Commissioners to enforce its Invasive Species Ordinance, met to discuss the county’s first significant violation.

Premier Landscaping and Design’s Jason Flynn attended the board meeting and admitted that his business did have an invasive variety of maiden grass for sale. But, he told the board, it was due to a series of mistakes and asked the board for leniency.

Flynn said he didn’t actually order the invasive grasses but, instead, received them mistakenly from his wholesale supplier. He acknowledged the plants ultimately ended up for sale on his company’s floor and that he could have done more to prevent that.

“It probably wasn’t my best day,” Flynn said, adding a direct apology for previously being “rude” when inspectors visited his business in June and found 30 invasive plants with Premier’s price tags on the sale floor.

The Invasive Species Ordinance passed in August of 2018 and was the first terrestrial invasive plant regulation in Indiana, preventing the sale, trade and import of more than 60 invasive plant species in Knox County.

Will Drews, who is tasked with enforcing the ordinance, said the ordinance, which took effect Jan. 1, has prevented more than 800 such plants from being sold and planted so far this year.

Drews, who is the Natural Resource Specialist for the Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District, also told board members he had multiple encounters with Flynn before moving to a penalty phase.

During a routine inspection in mid-June, Drews said, “we asked (Flynn) to remove them and he refused,” adding that he sent an anonymous shopper back to Premier Landscaping and Design, 1303 N. 6th St., two weeks later where the invasive plants were still available for sale.

Flynn admitted to the violation, but he also believes the ordinance unfair.

“I don’t like the way it’s laid out because it only affects the local businesses,” Flynn said. “It’s not illegal to go out and buy these plants in Jasper or Washington and bring them in.”

Previous opponents of the ordinance, too, have said many of their customers don’t live in Knox County, and they’ve expressed frustration at not being able sell these invasive species to them.

“At least 40% of my sales come from out of the county,” Flynn said.

At the end of the discussion, board member Kenneth Risley made a motion to impose a $1,500 against Premier, but other members seemed uncomfortable with that dollar amount, perhaps believing it too high; first offenses can technically cost a business up to $2,500 per invasive plant found, according to the ordinance.

Instead, board president Jennifer Nettles called simply for the invasive plants to be destroyed and noted that the board would be less inclined to show mercy if another violation occurs in the future.

A second offense, according to the ordinance, can cost a business owner up to $7,500.

For more information about the invasive species ordinance or native plants, contact Drews at 812-882-8210 or visit http://knoxcountyswcd.com/kccisma/.

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