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Residents hot over burn bans

February 13, 2013 - Walters Lake residents were steamed when they heard their burn permits would be restricted due to a neighbor's health complaint.

"We believe that the reason for this burn restriction is not only punitive, but that the medical reasons to back it up are bogus," said Jim Tedder, Walters Lake resident spoke at the Jan. 29 Independence Township Board meeting.

Supervisor Pat Kittle noted the policy was developed with the best intentions to protect people with serious medical conditions, but said it would be revisited at a future board meeting.

"This has got to be addressed," Kittle said. "It is a difficult policy because of inconsistencies that we have to take a good, hard look at."

About 23 property owners living near the lake are affected by the township's recently revised open burn policy -- approved last October.

The policy allows locals to provide the fire department with a letter signed by their physician stating the resident has "a serious medical condition that is aggravated or triggered by the exposure to smoke from open outdoor burning of leaves, branches, and/or wood."

Once the letter is on file with the fire department, 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.

One of Tedder's neighbors submitted a doctor's note to the fire department causing the policy to kick in. Tedder said he and neighbors have seen people smoking as well as burning in a fireplace and fire pit on that property.

Trustee David Lohmeier, who originally proposed the open burn policy, told Tedder, "if a resident in the area wants to apply for a burn permit, you still can, and the [fire] chief does have a good amount of discretion over issuing them even if they're within the distance that we had called out in the policy."

Fire Chief Steve Ronk said his department has tried to be accommodating. For example, they have informed residents within the township's four medically-based no burn zones of when their neighbor with a health concern is out of town, so they can burn.

However, such communication and tracking when residents with doctor's letters aren't home is time consuming for the fire department. In addition, Ronk is concerned about confusing residents who have been told they cannot burn because of their neighbor's medical issue, yet they see others burning when the ill resident is out of town.

"This is not a pick and choose. If [the no burn zone] touches your property, you can't burn," said Ronk.

Because the open burn policy has only been in place since October, Lohmeier notes, "it's a learning year for us." He also told Tedder, "it's a policy, not a law, not an ordinance."

Four residents have submitted letters to the Fire Department, and as a result burning permits are supposed to be pulled on 121 parcels. Each medically-based no burn zone impacts between 20 to 40 property owners. According to Ronk, the department has heard from many residents about the burn policy and complaints have "really ramped up this year," he said.

The next township board meeting will take place on Tuesday, February 19 at 7 p.m. at the Township Hall on Waldon Road.

Clarkston News reporter
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