Council Workshop to Tackle Burning Questions
Contributed by: Ann Hinch  knoxnews.comon 1/5/2007

A new ordinance to regulate open burning inside Lenoir City may not be necessary, asserts resident Pat Hunter, if city council would review existing code and enforce what's already there.

"My understanding was, when I moved to Lenoir City twenty-something years ago, that there was no burning," she said at the Dec. 6 Loudon County Air Quality Task Force (AQTF) meeting, where the topic was discussed. "I'm wondering why it's allowed now."

Council will talk again about open burning at its upcoming Jan. 15 workshop, according to Mayor Matt Brookshire. The last time it discussed the matter was at its Aug. 21 workshop, at which time there was disagreement as to whether a special ordinance is needed.

The matter came to attention then because Loudon County commission had passed an anti-open burning ordinance and AQTF members were urging the cities to do the same. Brookshire said he asked Lenoir City Fire Chief Richard Martin to review similar ordinances from other municipalities to see what the city could use to "mesh" with current policy.

Right now, either Martin or another firefighter on duty must approve burn permits on daily basis, and Martin said this has been policy since at least 1991 when he began with the department. This includes taking the applicant's information and faxing copies to both fire stations and Loudon County E911 dispatch so the county is aware in case of emergency calls, and to provide a paper trail of liability.

"That mostly follows TDEC's (Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation) rules for statewide burning," he added.

Martin explained the firefighter inspects the site and bases permit approval on weather, location and whether there are temporary burning bans enacted by the state. Also, applicants can only burn what is grown on that land - this means no extraneous brush, building materials or chemicals.

Chief Mike Brubaker in Loudon cited similar procedure in his city, adding the majority of requests are clearing for new construction. Like Lenoir City, Loudon doesn't allow nighttime burning and requires materials be only clean wood waste grown on-site - no lumber or other foreign materials.

Hunter wrote letters to Lenoir City and Loudon in December urging each council to more strictly follow their existing ordinances. In Lenoir City, Title 13 prohibits "... dense smoke, soot, cinders, noxious acids, fumes, dust, or gases as to be detrimental or to endanger the health, comfort and safety" of residents.

Further, she pointed out the codes enforcement officer has the authority to cite offenders and summon them to court. Each day a violation continues may be considered a separate offense, and the city may fine up to $500 per offense. At the August workshop, city attorney Shannon Littleton advised council just needs to add something about what is allowed under "open burning."

At the time, Brookshire seemed in favor of temporary bans on burning for land developers, perhaps something similar to Hamilton County's seasonal ban from May through September. Councilman Eddie Simpson (himself a local developer) was not, wanting to first know if there are certain times of year, over others, that Loudon County is in violation of federal air quality.

"I think we're grasping at something here that's a minute part of our contamination," Simpson said, adding developers contribute little to local air pollution in comparison to local industrial plants.

In Loudon, City Manager Lynn Mills said council will not likely enact anything soon but has the matter under advisement. Like Lenoir City, Loudon already has an ordinance under Title 13 addressing "smoke, soot, cinders, etc.," but the penalty language seems vague compared to Lenoir City's.

"(Council doesn't) want to limit development by banning all open burning," Mills explained, adding firefighters "do monitor (permitted fires) as close as they possibly can."

For time and location of Lenoir City's Jan. 15 workshop, call 986-2715.