Q: Who has the responsibility of mowing ditches?
Title 11 O.S. §22-111(A) states “A municipal governing body may cause property within the municipal limits to be cleaned of trash and weeds or grass to be cut or mowed . . ..” The statute defines “weeds” as “all vegetation at any state of maturity which:
a. exceeds twelve inches in height, except healthy trees, shrubs, or produce for human consumption . . .
b. regardless of height, harbors, conceals, or invites deposits or accumulation of refuse or trash;
c. harbors rodents or vermin;
d. gives off unpleasant or noxious odors;
e. constitutes a fire or traffic hazard; or
f. is dead or diseased.”
The statute limits the definition of “weed” by stating that it “shall not included . . . land zoned for agriculture use” that lie “(150) feet from a parcel zoned for other than agriculture use.” 11 O.S. §§ 22-111(D)(1)(a)-(f)
Furthermore, the statute goes on to provide another agriculture exception. It says that “The provisions of this section shall not apply to any property zoned and used for agricultural purposes . . .. However, a municipality governing body may cause the removal of weeds . . . only if such weeds or trash pose a hazard to traffic and are located in, or within ten (10) yards of, the public right-of-way at intersections.” 11 O.S. §§ 22-111(E).
The statute goes on to provide certain procedural requirements and standards the municipal government must provide to the property owner. For example, the statute requires that at least 10 days notice be given to the property owner if the municipality decides to take action. Title 11 O.S. §22-111(A)(1).
Generally speaking, there is no statutory mandate that requires counties to mow grass in the ditches of private, rural landowners. A safety, hazard exception exists in 69 O.S. § 902(A) that states the county “shall maintain any advance warning sign and sight line vegetation control to the intersection.” However, this exception is limited only to county road and state highway intersections.
Furthermore, 69 O.S. § 601(A) discusses the responsibility of county commissioners. Listed therein is the exclusive jurisdiction of the county commissioners to designate, construct, maintain, and repair the county highways. However, it does not mention mowing grass in the ditches or surrounding area.
Therefore, it would be fair to say that no statutory mandate exists requiring counties to assume the duties of mowing grass in rural areas on privately owned land.
But some counties may assume the responsibility. After speaking with an individual responsible for mowing property within Oklahoma County, I found out that Oklahoma County will mow grass outside the incorporated city areas for safety reasons, potentially up to 3 or 4 times annually; if those areas involve ditches, he said they will generally mow the downslope off the county road, but will not mow the upslope. Primarily the county does this for safety reasons—e.g., so drivers are able to see if animals are about to enter the roadway. I also made a phone call to the Payne County Commissioner’s Office—I was told that they will mow the rights-of-way.
OKFB members may find it worthwhile to consult their county commissioner’s office. Members could ask them if and how much of their property adjacent to county roads is mowed, who is responsible for mowing the county’s rights-of-way, and who is responsible for mowing dirt roads.
** Disclaimer – These questions were answered by Tyler Christians, former OFB Legal Foundation intern, University of Oklahoma School of Law. This communication is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Transmission is not intended to create and receipt does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Legal advice of any nature should be sought from legal counsel.