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Columbia residents rail against proposed open-burning ban

Thursday, May 22, 2014 | 9:51 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Developers and concerned residents Thursday criticized a proposed city ban on open burning, speaking out at an open-house meeting held by the Columbia Fire Department.

The meeting was held to gather information for the City Council, which will take up the proposal in July. 

At the meeting, developers said that the proposed ban, which had been tabled by council in April, would take away their ability to choose how to clear lots. Under the proposed ban, developers would have to seek a permit from the council to carry out large open burns.

"This isn't a palatable solution," said Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council. "These decisions need to be made by professional staff, not only twice a month by the council. They have enough to do. This is a job for professionals, not for politicians."

Stamper said this proposed change in law was unexpected. 

"I thought we had something pretty functional," he said. "I didn't see what drove this to come forward. It's an awful aggressive sweep — like going after this with a hatchet instead of a butter knife."

Stamper proposed alternative solutions, such as pit burning with a device that minimizes smoke from burning debris. Fire Batallion Chief Brad Frazier said he doesn't recall any complaints on pit burning as it prevents typical complaints from smoke and ash. 

At the April council meeting that addressed the ban, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser raised concerns about the cost of alternatives to burning, such as chipping or delivering trees, which could ultimately be more expensive to developers.

Stamper said Thursday that hauling wood and other waste from development sites could cause more pollution because of diesel use and dust from chipping. He also said that because there is no market for wood chips, they are just hauled off to landfills, which creates more waste.

The ban would amend the city's fire code by requiring a permit for burning to clear vegetation with a total fuel area of 3 feet or less in diameter and 2 feet or less in height. In instances where a proposed burn area is larger than 3 feet by 2 feet, the amendment would require that the council grant the permit. Such a permit will be approved only if there is no other reasonable use for the material, such as firewood.

The proposed ban was heard by the council on April 21 and was tabled until July 21 after some debate.

Under current law, residents or developers who wish to burn for nonrecreational purposes within city limits receive a permit from the Fire Department after a meeting to establish criteria of the burn such as wind, distance from structures and available equipment. The Fire Department then decides whether a pit fire, an open burn or an alternative method like chipping is more appropriate.

Billy Sapp, president of the Central Missouri Development Council, said in an email to the council on April 22 that stakeholders had not been given the chance to offer adequate input on the new burning policy and asked for the council to delay it. Deputy Fire Chief Randy White said that Thursday's meeting was an opportunity to gather community opinions and find an acceptable middle ground on the issue. 

City Manager Mike Matthes and Stephanie Browning, director of the Public Health and Human Services Department, said at the April council meeting that Springfield and other Missouri cities had already passed similar bans on open burning.

No one spoke in support of the proposed ban at Thursday's open house. However, several residents expressed concerns about the health and environmental impact of open burning before the council in April. 

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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