Bitterroot official declares war on weeds 

Ravalli County Road Superintendent Mike Wiles wants help from the county weed board. Specifically, Wiles wants the application of a great deal more herbicide and pesticide than is now being used and he wants a soil sterilant applied every time his crew reconstructs, paves or chip-seals an existing county road.

Wiles made his argument at last week’s weed board meeting, saying bluntly, “Do you want roads that last three to four years or roads that last 15 to 20 years?”

The proposal is bound to be controversial. A strong faction representing organic farmers and growers in the valley has been lobbying for less, not more, use of herbicides and pesticides on county-owned property. Several of those growers applied for weed board membership when the weed board reformed last summer but were not chosen by the county commissioners to sit on the board.

Wiles said vegetation encroachment has been one of the summer’s most serious problems for county roads. Because of the fires, almost none of the weed board’s normal spraying and mowing operations were completed this summer. And that has caused trouble for both paved and gravel roads.

As weeds grow along roadsides, cars shift their travel further toward the centers of the roads. Tall weeds can also cause sight problems at driveways and intersections, and all weed growth creates drainage problems when it rains.

The county has never used soil sterilant in conjunction with road construction, Wiles says, but weeds take root along the edges of roads, start working under the asphalt or chip seal, and gradually break the edges down.

With about 1,100 lane-miles of county roads, Wiles says it is difficult to do much more than maintain what is already there. Every mile that is upgraded and paved needs maximum protection to last as long as possible.

Ravalli County Weed Supervisor John Day discussed some of the application problems with Wiles, including lack of equipment and staff. He agreed that something needed to be done and that the two departments needed to work together. Narrow road easements and areas around running water will have to be addressed differently than more open areas, Day said. He also warned Wiles that there will be opposition to his proposals.

The two department heads plan to take their concerns to the Ravalli County commissioners this week to look for possible solutions and ways to work together. Combining road shop and weed board herbicide/pesticide bids and sharing equipment will be initial steps to be suggested.

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