Kitsap noxious weed program set to return in ‘24

Noxious weeds are obnoxious and won’t go away.

But the fact that Kitsap County does not have a Noxious Weed Control program, coordinator or board isn’t helping the matter.

Eric Baker, acting county administrator, said it should all be back in order by 2024. The effort has been on hiatus since January of 2022 when coordinator Dana Coggon left. “The program was working really well thanks to a very dedicated staffer,” Baker said.

After she left, the county advertised the position twice, but got no takers. Baker said they are going to re-advertise the position again and are more hopeful as the hiring climate is much better now than in mid-2022, right after the pandemic. “COVID was already an issue” making it tough for the coordinator at the time to get volunteers out to eradicate noxious weeds, he said.

Baker said money brought in for the program has been accruing and totals about $350,000. “It can’t be spent on anything else,” he said. He added the county will take a look at the money coming in and develop a program within those financial parameters. “We do not want to overpromise or underdeliver,” he said.

Baker said funds will be used for the coordinator and for public outreach. It’s always been a question of “how much to put toward the pulling of weeds.” In the past, volunteers and landowners groups have done the physical labor, coordinated by the one paid staffer.

Part of the revamping of the program will be what county department to put it in. Currently, it’s the county commissioners. Baker said it needs to go to a department with some technical expertise. “We’ve been working on this strategy for over six months,” he said.

The longer the program has been down, the more problems have developed, bringing more and more complaints. Newly appointed County Commissioner Christine Rolfes has got on board. “This is an important position to get filled,” she said.

We appreciate her “passion on this to re-enact this program,” Baker said of Rolfes.

Even the state has got involved. “Unfortunately Kitsap County has failed to hire any noxious weed staff in two years,” Anne Schuster, education specialist with the state Noxious Weed Control Board, says in an email.

The state board is trying to contact county leaders, Schuster said, adding she’s recommending to residents who complain to contact county commissioners. State law requires a board, and there’s also the potential for misappropriation of funds, she added.

State law since 1969 requires all counties to have a noxious weed program. Kitsap was one of the last three counties in the state to have a board—not until 30 years later.

Taxes to pay for the program amount to $2 per parcel and 8 cents per acre. Board members are: Wendy Westerlund on Bainbridge Island; Terese Walter in North Kitsap; and Elizabeth Anderson in Central Kitsap. There are vacant positions in Bremerton and South Kitsap.

Cyndy Holtz, chair of the BI Cooperative Weed Management Area, said during this interim period it has worked with BI Public Works director Chris Wierzbicki to perform a similar function. She said the cooperative is thankful the city budgeted some funds to make sure noxious weeds didn’t get out of control on BI.

However, she’s unsure what’s going to happen in the future when the county program returns. “We’ll all just have to sit down and reassess.”