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Burn ordinance controversy heats up

by Mary Keck

July 11, 2012

"If you're poor, you can't burn anymore," sums up John Keusch, who is critical of the Independence Township Board's revised Open Burn Ordinance.

On June 19, the board approved first reading of the new ordinance, which bans leaf burning on any land less than one acre.

Keusch, who lives on a half-acre lot, believes the revised ordinance is "benefitting those who are rich" because those who can't afford to buy more than one acre of land are restricted from burning.

He also thinks lower income families will struggle with the cost of leaf removal.

"They're taxing us without calling it a tax because we have to pay to have the leaves removed," he said.

According to Trustee Larry Rosso, several leaf disposal services were contacted during the process of revising the Open Burn Ordinance, but none of the waste management companies wanted to invest in additional leaf pick-up. A vacuum truck to take up leaves costs about $300,000.

All the disposal services determined it was "not cost effective" to invest in the truck and the added labor necessary to collect the leaves, Rosso said.

Keusch points out leaves on his land don't only fall from his trees; his neighbor's leaves will often blow onto his property. But he will have to bear the cost of removing the leaves without the convenience of burning. From his perspective, the issue of leaf burning "should be worked out with your neighbors," and the ordinance should not be changed.

According to the Independence Township Code of Ordinances, a provision allows fire department officials to extinguish a fire if it is "offensive or objectionable due to smoke, odor or particle emissions" or if it is a "potential hazard or nuisance."

Due to this portion of the current ordinance, Treasurer Curt Carson believes if a citizen's "neighbors don't cooperate, the fire department can stop it."

However, Rosso doesn't think the provision is enough.

"People do not want to contact the fire department because they want to have a good relationship with their neighbors," he said.

Also, those who have illnesses related to smoke "feel they are a small minority."

John Keusch, who attended Burn Committee meetings and public hearings, said, "75 percent of people there didn't want the ordinance to change."

Treasurer Carson said he counted the number of people who spoke for and against the new burn ordinance when they came to share their views at public hearings.

"Eighty to 90 percent of people that voiced their opinions at meetings felt [the ordinance] was fine the way it was, and 80 percent of the board voted opposite of that," Carson said.

On June 19, the treasurer was the only member of the board who voted against the revised Open Burn Ordinance.

Trustee Larry Rosso, who led the task of revising the ordinance, admits most of those who have contacted him have not been supportive of the change. However, amongst the 12,500 single-family homes in Independence Township, only 1,800 people have burn permits. Therefore, he believes most people don't burn leaves, and it is the few who do who are mainly attending the meetings and voicing their opinions.

To determine if citizens truly want a change to the ordinance, Keusch suggests putting a question on the ballot to "let the community decide." However, the board determines which items appear on the ballot, and they voted against a public vote on the burn ordinance, said Rosso.

From the Trustee's point of view, it is "not unusual to ban leaf burning" and refers to Waterford and Springfield townships, which have a ban on burning leaves.

He believes the board is protecting the peoples' "right to breathe clean air," particularly for those who live in subdivisions where there is a "concentration of smoke."

"On larger properties, smoke has a better chance of dissipating," he said. "Leaves are extremely toxic [when burned], more than campfire wood," Rosso said.

The Independence Township board will hold the second reading of the revised Open Burn Ordinance on July 17 at 7 p.m. in the Township Hall off Waldon Road.