Spokane County commissioners clearly have no burning desire to make outdoor debris disposal rules any more complicated than they are.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Todd Mielke said he is interested in the “easiest way possible” to deal with the question of administration and enforcement of yard and garden waste burning, which typically picks up during the autumn months.
In 2009, the usual eight-day yard waste burning periods were eliminated in Spokane County. However, exceptions exist within the boundaries of rural Fire Districts 2, 5, 11 and 12, where permits can be secured, if eligible, to burn debris.
The problem, according to Randy Vissia, Spokane County building director, is that the same rules don’t qualify for everyone countywide. And efforts to get other fire districts – including Districts 8 and 9 along with the Spokane Valley Fire Department – to come up with uniform permit programs of their own have not been successful.
“The remaining fire districts failed to reach consensus on a permit program,” Vissia told county commissioners.
That means, in the absence of open-burn days and the ability to secure a permit, there are lots of people who are burning yard waste illegally or simply letting it pile up, creating a fire hazard.
Vissia said his department, due to staff cuts in 2008, lacks the manpower to administer a permit program of its own and that it would take two full-time staff members plus a vehicle and related equipment to supervise the program and enforce it. With costs running into the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to operate the program, the estimated cost to secure permits would be cost-prohibitive to the average citizen, he said.
Mielke said he preferred a return to the general burn days to eliminate the need for permits altogether. Vissia advised, however, that there would still be complaints and that it would take “boots on the ground” to investigate possibly illegal fires.
“(The general burn days) occur on weekends,” he said. “That’s when people are home and complaints go up.”
Mielke suggested making use of an existing agency, such as the Noxious Weed Control Board, which is already out in the field and knows the area. Vissia said he thought Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort volunteers could also be a possibility.
Les Stone, a retired engineer who is active in efforts to promote the permit program, said he believes volunteers will come forward if the word goes out. He added he would be willing to lead the effort.
“I would volunteer to be the high-priced staff person at a low rate,” he said.
He added that the $500,000 Spokane County contributes each year to the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency could possibly be leveraged to help pay for enforcement efforts. The SRCAA board of directors determined in 2008 that an outdoor-burning program – even on a limited scale – “was not in line with the agency’s clean-air mission.”
Commissioner Mark Richard offered that efforts are already underway to encourage people to use solid-waste transfer stations and “clean green” alternatives to burning yard waste. Stone said those types of programs get better participation when they don’t require citizens to pay anything. There are often free recycling and composting events offered, although one recently planned for the Valleyford area was postponed until spring 2012 due to construction in the area.
“If it’s free, it’s hard to turn down,” Stone said.
Stone said the reason the shows are limited to four a year is to minimize the impacts on the parks and the effects on other users.
“The majority of Spokane Valley parks have not been designed to support large-scale events,” he said, noting limited restroom facilities, parking, water and power. “What is appropriate for one park may not be for another.”
Stone said in the future the city may want to designate and expand one of its parks specifically for car shows in mind.
“I think we have a lot of work to do,” said Mayor Tom Towey, who characterized the car show enthusiasts as “good people.”
“I think we can work something out,” Stone said.