Paxton bans leaf-burning

PAXTON  — With the burning of leaves now banned in Paxton, city officials are turning their attention to another issue: What to do with all those leaves coming down this fall.

Following an hour-long discussion, the Paxton City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday night, with Alderman H.J. Flesner absent, to approve an ordinance prohibiting the burning of leaves, effective immediately.

In doing so, however, aldermen made it known that they are well aware of the potential problems that could come this fall if no solution is in place by that time to remove leaves that will have accumulated in the roughly 2,200 yards in Paxton.

Upon the suggestion of Alderman Rob Steiger, the council added language to the ordinance to state that the city will “develop a plan” to dispose of leaves and present it to the council by the end of September for its approval.

“That definitely gives us the impetus to come up with good options,” said Alderman Mike Wilson, chairman of the council’s public safety committee.

As stated, the plan to be developed will include “alternatives to burning.” Among the options discussed was the city buying leaf-removal equipment at an estimated cost of $65,000 and having city workers go around town and pick up leaves using it. Alternatively, the city could hire a private lawn-care service to do the work.

The idea was also broached about the city possibly paying half of the fees residents would be charged if they would hire a private lawn-care service themselves.

The latter option would be considerably less expensive for the city than the first two, officials said. If the city were to buy the equipment, it would require two employees of the public works department to operate the machine, likely meaning at least one more employee would need to be hired, noted Public Works Director Mark LeClair.

Under any scenario, it appears likely the leaves would be taken to the city’s burn pile located behind the water-treatment plant along Pit Road south of Paxton. There, the leaves could either be turned into mulch or burned.

LeClair said, however, that burning leaves at the burn pile is “not technically” allowed per Illinois Environmental Protection Agency rules, and Mayor Bill Ingold also noted that the burn pile will already be pretty full in the upcoming year with the expected removal of more than 300 ash trees in Paxton plagued by the emerald ash borer. Ingold said a suitable disposal method will need to be worked out.

The banning of leaf-burning was the result of concerns among aldermen and residents about the health hazards associated with it. Two residents voiced their concerns about how burning leaves can be harmful to persons afflicted with asthma, in particular.

Dustin Franckey, who lives at 956 E. Orleans St., said that one of his three children has asthma and that a leaf-burning ban would help protect her and other children from harmful smoke. Franckey, a Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School cross-country and track coach, also noted that his athletes rely on having clean air to perform at their best.

“Last night when (my athletes) were running (in Paxton) ... we tacked on probably a quarter-mile to a half-mile (on our route) dodging smoke on the northwest side of town,” Franckey said.

Sally Ellis said her daughter, Evie, has been an avid runner since she was 8 years old. Ellis said her daughter also has asthma, noting that “leaf smoke is one of the worst things for my daughter, as far as (problems with) getting air into her lungs.”

“During track season and cross-country season, it can definitely prohibit her from performing at her peak ability — it can slow her down; it can take her completely out,” Ellis said. “Leaf smoke, for her, is dangerous, and I don’t want to have to take her to a hospital after a race. I don’t want her to stop running. I want her to be able to live in an environment where people are concerned about the safety of our children.”

Meanwhile, Deane Geiken, who lives at 309 E. Pells St., said he is “not a fan” of the leaf-burning ban. Geiken said burning leaves — which he said he does only a couple of times each fall, and only when the wind allows it not to be a problem for his neighbors — is a more efficient disposal method than bagging them.

“I can appreciate people who have asthma ... but I don’t (burn leaves) on a regular basis and I try really to do it on a day the wind goes up,” Geiken said.

Both Geiken and his wife, Cordelia, said that if the city were to ban the burning of leaves, the city ought to also come up with a list of options residents could turn to as a resource for getting rid of their leaves in a legal fashion.

“I want to know who’s going to come rake my leaves or pick them up out of my yard or what I can do with them,” Deane Geiken said. “I don’t necessarily want to put them in the back of my truck ... and haul them somewhere.”

Deane Geiken asked if the city could provide residents with a leaf-pickup service, similar to the city’s regularly scheduled brush pickup.

If not, residents may just decide to sweep their leaves to the curb and leave the city to deal with disposing of them, said the Geikens’ neighbor, Debi Chapman-Hermann.

“But that’s against the law,” the mayor pointed out.

Some 10 residents voiced their views to the council Tuesday — a larger-than-normal crowd for a single topic. Many were there to express their concerns about media reports that seemed to indicate the council was considering banning recreational fires, too.

Wilson, whose committee met five days earlier to discuss proposed burning regulations, said it was “never the intent” of the council to ban recreational fires, and he was disappointed by the “misleading” information from the media following the committee meeting.

“Frankly, I will never vote for an ordinance that bans recreational fires,” Wilson said. “It’s unfortunate that that was how it was kind of portrayed when that definitely was not how the discussion flowed the other night and it was never our intent.”

As originally drafted, the proposed ordinance presented Tuesday, however, contained language that would have limited what residents could do to build their recreational fires. Specifically, the ordinance would have made it illegal to burn branches of less than 2 inches in diameter, along with green or “fresh” wood and “other landscape waste material.”

That language was removed after residents raised concerns about such regulations.

“I just think it gets kind of hairy when you can’t burn sticks,” said Brandon Magers, a resident of 940 E. Patton St.

In addition to the burning of leaves, the ordinance prohibits the burning of “any rubbish, garbage, paper or other combustible material,” as well as the use of burn barrels to burn “waste.”

A first violation of the ordinance can result in a $50 fine, with a $200 fine for each subsequent offense. If an illegal fire continues beyond one day, each additional day constitutes a separate violation.

Wilson said the council had discussed banning the burning of leaves several times in the past 15 or 20 years but took no action. In Wilson’s time on the council, he said, he gets far more comments from his constituents in support of such a ban than any other topic. Wilson said he would like to see a decision made to end the discussion.

All seven aldermen present, along with the mayor, said they supported a leaf-burning ban, but some suggested postponing a vote until after the city can first come up with some possible solutions to remove and dispose of residents’ leaves. City officials said they need a solution in place before this fall, so that leaves do not accumulate too much and end up clogging the city’s storm drains.

Gary Kingery, a resident of 631 W. State St., suggested the council research what other towns are doing before coming to a decision it may end up regretting.

However, Steiger said it is “not a complicated issue” that requires more research. Steiger said the only issue is that the city needs to “come up with the money to take on mitigation measures” to get rid of the leaves.

Steiger then suggested adding language to the ordinance to ensure the public that the city would develop a plan by the fall.

“I’m not saying that we have to do it in any certain way,” Steiger told his fellow aldermen. “All I’m saying is that (by adding that language) we’re telling ourselves that it has to be done.”
 

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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