October 10, 2012 - Those with smoke-related health conditions can breathe easier now that Trustee David Lohmeier's burn permit policy passed 4-1, with Clerk Barb Pallotta opposing. Trustee Mark Petterson was absent.
Under the new policy, locals with an illness verified by a physician can file with the fire department. Once the fire department is aware of the resident's condition, any neighbors living within 400 feet will not be issued burn permits. If someone within the 12-acre area already has a permit to burn, it will be revoked.
Those benefiting from the policy must be willing to publicly share their illness, Lohmeier said.
"If you provide information on a health issue to us so that we can do this, it would be public information," he said.
The majority of the board favored the policy change, but the response from citizens in attendance was mixed.
"We have enough restrictions as it is," said Mike Catanya. "You have to have a burn permit, there are burn day schedules; it is not any every day or every weekend occurrence."
Eight days each month from April to December are "burn days," when residents with a permit can burn. If the fire department is called to a home with a permitted fire and determines it is hazardous or a nuisance, they can extinguish it.
While Catanya felt there were already sufficient limitations on burning, others felt there were too many variables to adopt the policy.
John Keusch noted someone with a 1,000-acre lot may have a property line touching an ill neighbor's land that in some places is 600 feet away. Even with a 1,000-acre property, the landowner would be denied a burn permit.
"If we're going to do this, I think we need to be considerate of the people who are going to be denied a burn permit," said Dan Wheeler. "Why should they be required to spend possibly several hundred dollars to dispose of their leaves because they happen to live next to a neighbor that has a medical issue?"
Wheeler suggested the township reimburse those who cannot have a burn permit when they have to pay for a leaf and brush removal service.
The new policy was popular with others who spoke at the meeting, however.
"I'm in favor of the 400 feet; I think it's a good compromise between the people who need to burn and the people with a medical issue," said Larry Brown.
Sandra Boggemos supported the new policy as well.
"I would appreciate some protection just so I can stay alive in my house," she said. "Sometimes I don't know when people are going to burn. They start up, and if they are really close to me, I don't have time to get out. Then, I'm in the hospital, and it's a very serious medical emergency."
Fire Chief Steve Ronk said his department gets many complaints in the fall due to burning.
"We respond to all complaints," Ronk said.
To implement this policy, the fire department will notify residents who are no longer permitted to burn and track the zones where residents who have documented health concerns reside before issuing new permits.
"It is going to be more difficult than it is today," Ronk stated. "We'll enforce what you tell us to enforce."
"I just don't think it's enforceable," said Pallotta, the only member of the board to oppose the new policy.
Lohmeier compared the policy to laws in place to protect those with disabilities.
"Like most people in the community, I don't like parking farther away from the door when I go to the store, but I don't mind passing those handicapped spaces because people need them. We're a compassionate community," he said.
Burning in Independence Township can take place on Oct. 16, 18, 20, and 21 and through December on designated "burn days."
For more information on burn days and permits, view the fire department's website at www.independencefire.us.
Clarkston News reporter