Leaf burning compromise agreed upon
It's a smoldering compromise for now, but leaf burning will still be allowed this year -- with regulations.
The Baldwin City Council passed on first reading a new ordinance at Monday's meeting that will limit the number of leaf fires per day to 25. It won't take effect until second reading at the next council meeting, but should be in place for leaf burning season, a long-standing tradition for the town known for its many trees ... and corresponding leaves.
Dennis Waymire, a Baldwin City resident since 1994, first brought the issue to the council a year ago. He provided information that showed that burning leaves releases toxins in the air. The safety committee studied the situation for a year and came up with the compromise plan.
"I think this is an issue that has evolved," said Council Member Tony Brown, who chairs the safety committee. "As Dennis said, this is a health hazard. I think this first regulates the number of fires. Next year when Dennis comes back, we could be ready to take the next step."
Although Waymire wasn't completely satisfied with the outcome -- he wanted either a complete ban or limiting burning to just one day a week -- he was glad something happened.
"I appreciate what's been done," said Waymire.
Originally, the new ordinance had a $25 fine for violations. That eventually was amended, leaving it up to the municipal court judge's discretion. Council President Amy Cleavinger pointed to a similar ordinance recently passed in Eudora that carries a $500 fine. She doesn't think a $500 fine should be imposed, but thinks $25 isn't enough.
"I looked at this and an ordinance that Eudora has that has some teeth," said Cleavinger. "If we believe in this, why don't we do something about it? If we're going to be serious about it, let's be serious about it."
That prompted more discussion and compromise.
"You can come back and revisit this, change it, improve it," said Mayor Gary Walbridge.
That prompted Council Member Ted Brecheisen Jr. to jump in. It also caused a spirited exchange between him and Waymire.
"I've had more people talk to me about this that didn't want a leaf burning ban," said Brecheisen.
"That's all hearsay, Junior," said Waymire. "How many people came here and said they want to burn leaves and create carbon dioxide? That's hearsay, Junior."
"There are numerous things we need to look at," said Brecheisen. "I'm like Tony, I think this is a start."
"Don't you think everyone in town wants cleaner air?" said Waymire. "We have a code that's unenforceable."
That's when Brown stepped back in.
"These substances are toxic," said Brown. "We don't know what they do at what levels. What are the costs associated, what are the benefits? At what levels are these at?
"I feel uncomfortable just banning it entirely," he said. "That's why I think this is a good first step."
"With all the information I've given you, I'm done," said Waymire.
"I know there are strong concerns on both sides," said Brown. "It's been walking a fine line."
That's when the discussion moved into the amount of fine again. City Administrator Jeff Dingman said the fine could be left to the judge, depending on the circumstances involved. Council Member Ken Wagner wasn't sure about the amount.
"I agree it's about common sense and good neighbors," said Wagner. "I have a problem with an ordinance that would have a $500 fine. What it comes down to me is if the city could afford alternatives, I'd favor the $500 fine.
"But, what are we going to do with all these leaves?" he said.
City staff and others have suggested alternatives of mulching, composting and bagging. Brown has said one rural resident has offered to take all the leaves she can get.
"I agree with just being good neighbors," said Brown. "If everyone followed that, we wouldn't need speed limits, we wouldn't need laws for paying taxes. I think Dennis makes a good point that everyone isn't neighborly. There are other opportunities like mulching. There are other alternatives. You don't have to do the same thing over and over."
That prompted the vote on the first reading. It passed 4-1 with Cleavinger casting the lone dissenting vote.