Olive Trees: The Good and The Bad - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

Olive Trees: The Good and The Bad

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(Apr. 30) -- It's illegal in Clark County to plant European olive trees. The ban was imposed 13 years ago because of excessive pollen created by olive trees. But there are exceptions to the rule. Two varieties of so-called fruitless olives are legal to plant here because they supposedly produce little or no pollen. But sometimes, it doesn't work out that way.

The pollen problem in Las Vegas ranks among the worst in the nation, which is why the ban on new trees was enacted years ago. But government enforcement of the anti-pollen ordinance is sketchy at best, in part because no one seems to know how to tell a good olive from a bad olive. It gets even more complicated when it turns out that the government is responsible for planting more of the accursed trees.

At Leavitt Middle School this week, there's a fresh coat of paint on the bottoms of a half dozen olive trees, signaling that these trees must go. In all, 33 olives were planted at the school. The design architect, landscaper, tree broker, and tree grower all checked to make sure these were so called fruitless olives. But for fruitless trees, they sure do produce a lot of olives, and pollen, and at a cost of about $2,000 each, they proved an expensive mistake.

Alan Paulson, with the Clark County School District, said, "I'm looking at 75-grand."

School district landscaper Alan Paulson says he can't afford to replace all of the suspect olives. He's taking out six because they're closest to where students walk and because the kids were using the nonexistent olives to paint graffiti on the campus.

Dave Turner: "If they didn't build the school properly, they'd have the contractor back fixing it, but with olive trees, no one wants to touch it."

Dave Turner is the guy who first complained about the olives going in, but says the landscapers, school district, and air quality board all gave him the brush off. In reality, there are no pollen police out enforcing the olive ban. The valley depends on citizen complaints and voluntary compliance by nurseries and landscapers to meet the law.

Turner's complaint last fall about the Leavitt olives prompted air quality officials to issue a mass mailing, reminding companies and government entities about the olive ban. The school district followed up with a letter of its own. It turned out that offending olives were also planted in at least two other schools, and judging from the fruit and pollen, it appears the City of Las Vegas paid for some suspect olives in its beautification project along Alta. The law says violators can be fined, but it isn't likely.

Bob Folle, air quality management, said, "At this point, no one was cited because both entities, the school district and the City of Las Vegas, acted in good faith and thought they got what they ordered."

In the 13 years since the law's been on the books, only two corrective orders have been issued for illegal trees, and no fines at all. Folle admits, frankly, that no one on his staff can tell the difference between a legal olive and an illegal one, that is, until the pollen and fruit start appearing. So his office has to rely on the private sector to do the right thing and plant the right trees

Dave Turner wonders, if it's so hard to tell the difference, and if even fruitless olives still produce some pollen, then why plant olives at all? "You can plant trees that are just as good that won't cause problems.

Air quality officials say it would be nearly impossible for them to inspect all new trees in the valley, so they are studying the olive tree issue to come up with a workable enforcement plan that could be presented to their board. The school district vows that it will look with great skepticism on any future claims of fruitless olives.

The City of Las Vegas said it isn't convinced that it bought the wrong olives, even though other officials say that's the case. A spokeswoman said those trees on Alta produced so much fruit this year because of all the rain we had.

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  • George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

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