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Board considers burn ordinance
State inconsistencies lead to local laws
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The Dawson County Board of Commissioners is considering a new ordinance that will limit where debris from construction sites can be burned in the county.

Burning on a 15-acre site owned by the Big Canoe Property Owner's Association off Hubbard Road, east of Steve Tate Highway sparked the drafting of the ordinance, officials have said.

"Most of that site is inside of Dawson County," said District 1 Commissioner Gary Pichon, who lives near the area. "Big Canoe hauls stumps, trees and limbs from the 7,000 acres of Big Canoe proper and burns it ... on this site."

He claims smoke from fires on the tract of land have poised health problems from residents living nearby.

"The fires there are kept burning for months at a time. As a matter of public disclosure, it affects me directly, but I haven't acted on the matter as an elected official until other constituents have asked me to try and eliminate this problem," Pichon said.

And it's not just the commissioner that is speaking out against the burning.

"I live approximately a quarter mile from Gary, up the road," Gerald Swafford said during the first of two public hearings on the matter on May 1. "My daughter has asthma problems and the smoke gets so bad at the house."

Swafford said there are also safety risks.

"I don't care for people burning during the day, or even if they can't get it out that night, I can live with that. But when it goes on for six and seven days and I can't even see the driveway from my house, that's bad," he said. "What bothers me is that these trucks come in there and there's no way that all of this debris can be coming from Big Canoe [in Dawson]."

Currently, under the state law, it is both illegal to burn at night and truck in waste to new areas to burn.

However, it is up to the EPD to interpret and enforce the laws, though provision under the state law allows exceptions to the rules based on what official is currently issuing permits and interpreting the laws.

It's the conflicted interpretations that have led the board to consider a local ordinance.

"What we're running into is that the forestry commission has one set of regulations, solid waste has another set of regulations and the EPD has a third set," said County Attorney Joey Homans. "Unfortunately, what we're dealing with is going to the edge of the forestry commission's rules and then they move us to solid waste, who moves us to the EPD and they send us back to the forestry commission. We just couldn't get a definite answer."

Pichon said he and other residents have complained to the Big Canoe manager several times, as well as personally contacting the local Department of Natural Resources office.

"I was told that the state law allows this type of burning because the material came from Big Canoe," he said. "I have been told by officials from the Environmental Protection Department that no night burning is allowed during the burn season or that material may be moved from its site, trucked to another place and burned. Once it is trucked, it must be treated as solid waste and moved to an inert land fill."

According to Pichon, the site has been in trouble with the EPD in the past and has a history of violations.

Calls to Big Canoe Property Owners Association were not returned as of Tuesday afternoon.

Under the proposed ordinance, all of those in the unincorporated areas of Dawson County seeking to burn items hauled to open areas in a truck would be required to obtain a DNR permit first and be subject to a burning timeframe of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Fires must be completely extinguished otherwise. Those in violation would be submitted to fines enforced by the Dawson County Fire Marshals and Marshal's office, as well as any other law enforcement officers in the county.

The final hearing will be at 6 p.m. on May 15 during the next voting session at the Dawson County Government Center.