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Citizens fume over planned burn days

SOLON– The city fanned the flames last week.
Arguments for and against a proposed burn ban heated up at Wednesday night’s regular city council meeting.
By the end, three council members agreed to look at the next step– restricting the open burning of residential yard waste to certain established dates– and possible dates will be discussed at a March 21 session.
The action came despite a petition signed by 62 residents asking the council to refrain until a special committee could consider the issue.
The city council has been discussing a potential revision of its open burning laws at the request of council member Brad Kunkel, who again advocated for a change during the March 7 regular meeting. Kunkel has suggested the additional ban on open burning is a natural evolution of the city’s residential leaf collection, but opponents have argued backyard recreational fires are just as unhealthy and much more frequent.
The city has since been exploring the possible curbside collection of yard and landscape waste, which could feed a municipal compost pile in the future.
Council members discussed all that and more last Wednesday as the drama continued to unfold.
Council members Steve Stange and Jessie Ehlinger joined Kunkel in their willingness to at least look at possible dates to which yard waste burning would be restricted.
But council member Mark Krall continued to express concern the city was moving too fast.
“If we’re thinking already about dates, do we already need to have something set up as a compost area?” Krall asked. “I can’t see setting dates right now unless they have an alternative.”
Public Works Director Scott Kleppe indicated there currently wouldn’t be adequate space for a compost pile behind the city’s public works building. The city has met with an adjacent property owner in the hopes of acquiring more land, but no price has yet been set for an initial half-acre needed for composting.
Joining Krall in opposing the dates was Ron Herdliska.
“It’s my opinion we need a whole lot more information before we go another step,” Herdliska commented. He listed a set of his concerns which included how much it would cost the city for new collection equipment and additional manpower, and whether yard waste could be burned as part of a recreational fire.
“How many problems have we had in the past?” he asked. “I don’t like to make a whole hell of a lot of rules just to make rules.”
Kunkel and Stange contended open burning has been a problem, and the restriction would be a compromise for both sides.
“I don’t think there’s that many people that burn yard waste, I really don’t,” Stange said. “But when they do burn it, it’s the whole length of their property, and it’s a low, heavy, thick smoke and a lot of times I see them burning it especially on our chip-seal streets.
“What I’m saying is when it does happen, I think it is an issue,” he added.
Kunkel said the problem was more widespread.
“It seems like the majority of the nice days that you’re outside from spring to Thanksgiving there’s smoke in the air,” he said. Kunkel described the lights at the football stadium as shrouded in smoke and said kids playing recreational soccer could be exposed to smoke from yard waste. “It’s about people’s health. It’s about people’s livelihood, it’s about people that can’t enjoy the town they live in and the fresh air that everyone’s entitled to.”
Then why not be concerned about the health of a person living next to regular backyard campfires, asked former council member Sue Ballantyne.
“I don’t know that that goes on,” Kunkel responded. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it.”
“I can give you numerous examples of that,” Ballantyne replied. “It does go on.”
Another audience member, Margo Redlinger, also took issue with Kunkel’s comments, noting the city’s recreational soccer fields are not near a residential area.
When Ehlinger confirmed she also had seen smoke at the football field, Redlinger asked “Can you tell– is it recreational burning or is it yard waste burning?”
It was Ballantyne who presented the petition before the discussion began. Bearing 62 signatures, it asked the city to assign one or two council members and representatives of the community to work through the issue, similar to the approach taken when sidewalk installation and maintenance was a hot-button topic. In the meantime, the petition noted, the city could revise its capital equipment purchases and plan thoughtfully for the collection of yard waste.
“I think that if you have the subcommittee, it would do a lot to pacify the citizens of Solon,” Redlinger observed. “Where if you start in tonight and pass burn dates, it’s like getting crammed down their throats.”