Council May Nix Open Burning Ban

Contributed by: Ann Hinch on 1/26/2007

If Lenoir City council enacts anything against open burning, it'll likely be a resolution upholding existing state regulations, which do not expressly prohibit burning to clear for multi-dwelling or commercial development.

In May 2006, Loudon County commission passed an ordinance banning open burning for anything other than agriculture or personal use on one's own residential property. But this does not regulate activity within cities' limits.

Commission adopted its ordinance at the recommendation of Loudon County Air Quality Task Force. Last summer, task force members asked the municipalities to adopt similar bans to cut down on smoke and fine-particulate pollution produced from large-scale wood burning.

In Lenoir City, Mayor Matt Brookshire has seemed to favor a ban, which would require developers to dispose of wood waste in other ways, such as chipping. The task force's proposed ordinance would not prevent a resident from burning one or two felled trees, providing they obtain a permit from the fire department.

"When it's considered clearing or burning for development purposes, that's what (the ban) means," Brookshire told council at a Jan. 15 workshop.

Councilman Mike Henline viewed the ordinance as a perceived penalty for developers, and Councilman Eddie Simpson explained it costs about twice as much, or $10,000 per acre, to clear woodland without burning.

"I don't want pollution; I really don't," he said. "But I want to work with everyone ... developers, and residents, and farmers."

Though council can't officially vote at workshop, consensus seemed to favor removing the section of the proposed ordinance that would ban burning for development.

"The only reason this ordinance is written is because of (that section), for land development," Brookshire countered, adding there are residents concerned about cutting down air pollution. "Are we not letting them down by not trying to address that?"

The proposed ban was not on council's Jan. 22 agenda, but resident Brian Hendricks spoke in favor anyway. "My vote would be to ban open burning 100 percent," he said. "It's not going to slow down development in Lenoir City."

He added a friend coaches youth soccer and that half the children on his team have inhalers, perhaps owing to poor local air quality. He reiterated Lenoir City's attractions and said developers would not be deterred by a no-burn rule.

In the county itself, at least one resident is less than impressed with ordinance enforcement. Pat Hunter of Clean Air Friends/Clean Air Kids has reported numerous instances of open burning and alleges the perpetrators are not being fined.

"Loudon County has, in essence, passed an open burning ban that isn't being enforced," she stated. "I have received numerous phone calls from county residents, and they tell me that (building commissioner) Bill Cox and the codes enforcement officers go to the development site, but the burning continues on."

Cox, who just recently began keeping records of complaints, estimated since May he has received calls about perhaps 10 separate instances of burning, including two cases in which it was legally permitted.

In addition, there have been times when he or someone from his office has noticed an unreported fire and checked on it. For every complaint, he said he or a building inspector has gone to the site and given a verbal warning about the new ordinance.

"In all cases so far, that's as far as it's had to go," he said, adding he knows of no repeat offenders. "I believe in most cases, they just didn't know they weren't supposed to, and when they (were told not to), they were very cooperative about putting it out."

Cox added he doesn't have the authority to write citations - such matters would have to go to court. He intends to continue with verbal warnings on first-time offenses, but said he would alert the proper authorities to cite repeat offenders.

Hunter alleges at least one site, the Saddlebrook development near Lenoir City, has continued burning when it should not. Cox said the property is inside city limits, but according to Lenoir City tax records and Codes Enforcement Officer DeAnn Bogus, it is not.

Council is likely to consider the matter at its Feb. 12 meeting, at 7 p.m. at city hall.


By Becky Blanton News Herald

Citing concerns there were more constituents who wanted a ban than developers who wanted burn permits, Brookshire said he wanted to totally ban open burning by developers.

"Development is good for us," Brookshire said. "It provides a needed tax base. We don’t want to do anything to eliminate that, but we have a lot of people, a lot of constituents who feel air quality is a big deal."

Lenoir City doesn’t currently have a definitive burn policy, but Title 13-101 of the city charter does address property maintenance regulations which make it illegal for “any person to permit or cause the escape of such quanities of dense smoke, soot, cinders, noxious acids, fumes, dust or gaases as to be detrimental to or to endanger the health, comfort and safety of the public or so as to cause or have a tendency to cause injury or damage to property or business.”

The Lenoir City Fire Department has a burn permit policy but between both regulation and policy there is no definitive way to measure what constitutes “such quanities” that would cause harm. That, says Brookshire, is why council needs to reach a concensus on how to determine a policy that addresses both air quality issues and development concerns.

Council members, several of whom are developers, pushed for regulation and a "case-by-case" policy, but with no discussion on what constitutes harm. An hour’s debate and discussion on the issue resulted in Brookshire telling the council, "I hear you saying you want to regulate not prohibit burning."

Councilman Gene "Blackie" Johnson agreed with the mayor’s concerns over constituents. "We want to stay on the good side of the people and the law," he said. "People vote and the law puts you in jail."

Discussion will continue on the issue at the next city council meeting on Monday, Jan. 22.