Open burn debate moves forward

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published July 2, 2013

ROYAL OAK — The possible repeal of the city’s ban on open burning moved one step closer June 17 after the city’s administration provided the City Commission with a report on how neighboring communities enforce recreational fires.

The report included statistics from neighboring communities that permit small fires, along with information from statewide organizations, such as the American Lung Association of Michigan.

In the report, Fire Chief Chuck Thomas concluded that both Birmingham and Ferndale — communities that recently allowed open burning — did not see an increase in fire incidents.

At the same time, the ALA calls open burning a “serious threat to respiratory disease and public health.”

The commission voted 6-1 to table the matter to an undetermined future commission meeting, allowing commissioners more time to pore through the documents.

“This is a lot to comb through and look at what other communities are doing — what’s working, what’s not working and what could possibly work here,” Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said.

Commissioner Mike Fournier said he’d look to create an ordinance that would help eliminate nuisance fires — something he says the current ordinance does not do.

“The question is how do we control the situation to eliminate nuisance fires,” he said. “And that’s really the context of how we need to approach this.”

Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton called for increased penalties for repeat offenders and the implementation of a permit process.

“I’m looking for enhanced penalties so these neighbors don’t have to suffer,” he said.

Thomas agreed with Poulton on both points, saying that increasing penalties in Ferndale showed signs of decreasing violations.

“By having a fee system that escalates, they’ve also reduced the amount of complaints that they’ve had,” he said.

He also said that Ferndale sends an inspector to a home to ensure it is suitable for an open-burn permit.

“They have turned down a lot of permits because they don’t meet the required setbacks,” he said.

Commissioner Peggy Goodwin, who has maintained a stance against repealing the ordinance, voted no.

She said the number of people coming to meetings and sending emails to commissioners pleading with them not to repeal the ban should be message enough.

“I just don’t believe the way to make something better is to take something illegal and make it legal,” Goodwin said. “And I don’t think we’ve done enough to understand what’s being burned.”

She said legalizing recreational burning will open the door for people to not bother reading the ordinance and burn whatever they’d like. She compared it to when the Dream Cruise came to town, authorizing cruising along Woodward Avenue one day of the year.

“Well, guess what,” she said. “That went way out the window and now we have a major enforcement issue.”

During the May 6 commission meeting, the commission had requested more detailed information from the administration on statistics from neighboring communities who do and do not allow recreational fires.

At that meeting, both City Manager Don Johnson and Thomas expressed their stance against repealing the city’s ban on open burning, calling the potential repeal a “fire hazard.”