Leaf burning ban rekindles for council
An issue over banning leaf burning or regulating it more will have to smolder awhile longer.
At Tuesday's Baldwin City Council meeting a rare 2-2 tie vote occurred with a proposed ordinance that would limit the amount of burning that could be done each day. Rather than break the tie resulting from Council President Amy Cleavinger's absence, Mayor Gary Walbridge asked for a motion to send it on for second reading, but with additional work done on it by city staff.
"This needs to be researched further for more information," said Walbridge. "It should be returned to city staff."
Discussion of a possible ban on leaf burning began about a year ago when citizens complained about the excessive smoke caused when many people did their yearly ritual of burning large amounts of leaves. The council declined to make a decision and sent it to the safety committee for study.
Council Member Tony Brown, chairman of the committee, offered the proposed ordinance that would limit the number of leaf fires on any given day to 25. Residents would have to obtain a permit at City Hall, which would allow it to be regulated more. A fine of $25 was proposed for those who burned without the permit.
"This issue is a pickle," said Brown. "It's hard to come up with what to do with all the leaves. Some neighborhoods are particularly bad. Clearly, the health hazard associated with burning leaves are well documented. We need to do something about it.
"We feel that banning it completely is too much all at once," he said. "I am not for bagging these leafs and putting them in a landfill for people to find decades later still perfectly bagged. As nostalgic as it (burning) is, I think we need to do something about it."
The ordinance had support early in the discussion. Studies show that burning leaves does emit toxins which are especially harmful to the young, elderly and those with breathing problems, Brown said.
Walbridge said the problem and solution come down to common sense.
"Ideally, neighbors get along," said Walbridge. "My neighbor doesn't like it, so I don't burn leaves. This does give a structure of so many people per day burning.
"This gets us started in the direction of getting this under control," he said.
However, Council Member Ken Wagner was the first to raise questions. Wagner didn't like the wording in the ordinance that says burning leaves releases toxins, but then allows for it to be done. He also is bothered by it being handled through municipal court and fears Baldwin City will become known for fining people. The council recently passed an ordinance banning animals from public events, such as the Maple Leaf Festival.
"I have a couple of problems with it," said Wagner, first referring to the court issue. "I have a problem with its intrusiveness. I also have a problem with publicly admitting that this is toxic and allowing it to go on.
"The one thing that's certain is you've got to do something," he said.
Brown made note of the statistics regarding leaf burning. He said that according to the American Lung Association, burning one ton of leaves produces 38 pounds of fine particulate matter, 26 pounds of hydrocarbons and 112 pounds of carbon dioxide. But, he also knows the history of leaf burning here plays into the issue.
"We cannot ignore the scientific data out there," said Brown. "I also think if we say no more burning, we'd have a revolt."
He was then asked about the $25 fine for burning without a permit.
"We thought that was enough to get people's attention about this right away," said Brown. "It would go up for repeat offenders.
The court discussion brought questions regarding fines and court costs. Council Member Ted Brechiesen Jr. brought up the court cost issue. There was no immediate answer for what those would be, but it was finally determined that it would be $50.
"It's going to cost someone $75. Wow," said Brecheisen. "You might as well let people know if they violate this it'll cost them $75."
City staff was going to check into the court cost issue. No one was sure if it would be like a traffic ticket and people just have to pay it.
"If I'm not bothering the judge, why the hell is it going to cost $50?" said Walbridge. "I'm like Ken, I don't want this community to become known for collecting fines."
Resident Gene Nelson also made the point that alternatives, such as mulching and composting leaves needs to be discussed.
"Are we doing as much as possible to promote mulching?" said Nelson. "That seems to be the best thing we can do. We are a Tree City USA and we need to know what the best ways are to take care of them."
City Administrator Jeff Dingman said there would be efforts made to inform residents of other options. Brown said the committee looked into several alternatives, including burning on just certain days. More than anything, he's hoping to spark discussion.
"We do want to bring up alternatives," said Brown. "If this ordinance gets people to think about the issue, that's good."