New Victory Highway work raises concerns about weeds |

New Victory Highway work raises concerns about weeds

Whitetop, shown in this 2008 photo, is a noxious weed found in Routt County.

— City officials sent a certified letter to New Victory Highway contractor Duckels Construction on Tuesday emphasizing the need to avoid spreading noxious weeds. The letter cautions Duckels that the company could be responsible under the Colorado Noxious Weed Act for the cost of treating an infestation of the weed commonly known as whitetop if it results from construction vehicles spreading contaminated soil.

The letter was sent after the manager of the West Acres Mo­b­i­le Home Park, Dan Walsh, complained to Steamboat Springs and state officials that he did not think sufficient steps were being taken to ensure that construction equipment is not spreading the aggressive weed.

The mobile home park is adjacent to the first leg of the road construction, which is taking place on a city-owned easement. A group of homeowners in West Acres has a suit pending before the Colorado Court of Appeals, seeking to establish their standing to be compensated for the loss of a dedicated greenbelt on the easement. However, Walsh insisted that he was acting as an individual out of concern about the spread of the weed.

The letter to Duckels owner Fred Duckels is signed by city code enforcement officer Barb Wheeler, who specializes in weed control in the city limits.

"I have received a citizen complaint regarding the tracking of soil from the New Victory Parkway construction site on to the paved portion of Downhill Drive," the letter reads. "The concern is that the vehicles leaving the site may contain whitetop seeds and these seeds may be distributed along the roadways in that area."

The letter was copied to state weed coordinator Kelly Uhing, at Uhing's request, Wheeler said.

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"She told me that the city is doing what a municipality needs to do," Wheeler added.

Wheeler said she told Walsh the topsoil had been stripped from the path of the road and piled for containment. Walsh said he has observed and photographed construction vehicles driving across piles of soil.

"I have videotape of equipment driving through the debris pile," Walsh said. "How do you know if seeds roll off" the pile?

He added that he thinks it is inevitable that equipment leaving the construction site is spreading soil contaminated with seeds to paved highways, where water running off the road will carry seeds into ditches, causing whitetop to be spread along the Yampa River.

Duckels, who had not seen the letter as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, said Walsh is mistaken about vehicles driving through the soil pile.

"We're down to native clay out there, and the topsoil is at the far end" of the construction site, he said.

Wheeler emphasized that this fall's road construction is taking place only on city-owned property. It has been sprayed for whitetop control for at least the past four years, she said.

Wheeler acknowledged that the construction is taking place in the midst of a broader area where whitetop infestation is a concern.

The city's weed spraying contractor is Janie Brands, owner of Higo Weedbusters in the rural Walden area. Brands also is Jackson County's part-time weed coordinator.

"In Routt County, (whitetop) is the weed of choice," Brands said. "You can't break ground and not get whitetop. In that regard, Dan Walsh has a point."

Brands' company has sprayed the city easement where the highway is being built for the past two years. She said that when she walked the ground last summer, she saw a few single plants and a few bouquets, as she likes to call them, here and there.

Adjacent to the easement, she said, along the fence line of the mobile home park, the weed is flourishing.

"When I sprayed along the fence line, two women came out of their homes and shouted at me to stop," Brands said.

Walsh said it was particularly frustrating to him that in his observation, the city itself does not live up to the weed control requirements it imposes on citizens.

He produced a compliance letter he received from the city regarding weeds on his property. The letter, which outlines fines not to exceed $999 per violation per day, urges private property owners to use a certified weed contractor.

Critical prevention measures it proscribes include removing whitetop seedlings when young, replanting disturbed areas with desirable grasses as soon as possible and disposing of weeds in a bag and by burning seed heads.

"The city sprays, but it doesn't do those other things, and they threaten private citizens," Walsh said. "I mean, what the hell?"

Brands said she has observed heavy infestation of whitetop in yards at West Acres. Noting that the weed spreads by its root systems, as well as from seed, she said she thinks whitetop is spreading outward from the mobile home park.

"West Acres is a big weed ball," she said.

The certified letter to Duckels suggests that he set up a wash station to clean soil from the tires of vehicles and equipment leaving the site.

"I can't imagine how I'm going to set that up and wash them without the tires just getting muddy again," Duckels said.

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