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Franklin lacked proper license to douse mound with weed killer

Franklin could face a state penalty for spraying weed killer on an ancient Cherokee mound site because the town workers who did it weren’t properly licensed to use the herbicide.

The state could fine the town as much as $2,000, according to Pat Jones, pesticide deputy with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Or, the state could simply issue a warning and not fine the town. Jones said the case is still under review. He was uncertain when a decision would be made.

Town Manager Sam Greenwood said the town had not been aware employees needed a state license to handle the weed killer.

“Even for that garden-variety stuff you take off the shelf at Lowe’s, the town is supposed to have a license,” Greenwood said. “Our assumption was that it only applied to persistent chemicals — in other words, soil sterilizers.”

Two town employees will take the necessary classes to be licensed by the state, Greenwood said.

The herbicide was sprayed on Nikwasi Indian Mound in April. Greenwood ordered the spray applied without approval from the town board or the mound committee, a group formed specifically to discuss issues about Nikwasi Mound. The idea was to kill the grass growing on top of the mound so that “eco-grass” could be planted. Eco-grass grows no taller than half a foot and therefore does not need to be regularly mowed, saving the town maintenance workers the labor and expense.

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An initial attempt to replant it with eco-grass failed. The seed did not germinate, and the mound has remained largely brown — except for the green of some pokeweed and crabgrass. The eco-grass company has recommended the town not replant until later in the year when conditions will be more favorable, Greenwood said.

The spraying of the mound reverberated in Cherokee, which called for an apology from town leaders. Mayor Joe Collins did make a personal apology, and Alderman Bob Scott also called for an apology, but the town board as a body opted not to respond.

The spraying and lack of response to Cherokee by the town board angered Franklin resident Bill Evans, who confirmed that he alerted the state to the herbicide being sprayed on the mound.

“I called because I’m concerned about the mound,” Evans said. “They sprayed the pesticide, and the eco-grass isn’t worth a toot. They wouldn’t apologize to the tribe for weeks on end, and then Joe Collins finally issued a half-assed apology.”

Evans noted that his granddaughter is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. 

“We’ve got to protect what’s here for them,” Evans said.

Nikwasi Indian Mound is one of the largest intact mounds remaining in Western North Carolina. Large earthen mounds were built to mark the spiritual and civic center of American Indian towns that once dotted the Little Tennessee River Valley through Macon County and the region. Scholars note that while its precise age is uncertain, Nikwasi Mound pre-dates even the Cherokee.

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