Hilton Head burning ban starts Sunday; debris pickup still uncertain

tbarton@islandpacket.comNovember 6, 2013 

An ordinance banning the open burning of lawn debris on Hilton Head Island takes effect Sunday, leaving some residents wondering how they will dispose of limbs and brush.

Town Councilman Marc Grant, who represents the north-island neighborhoods where open burning is most prevalent, said the town should wait to enforce the ban until it can provide residents with an alternative. Grant was the lone council member to vote against the ban Tuesday, when Town Council approved it.

"We didn't have a plan in place to address those people who burn," Grant said. "I felt it was out of order ... putting in place a ban and then rushing to figure out how to accommodate those small number of residents who don't have a way to dispose of their yard debris."

Council is considering providing debris pickup for those who cannot haul it away or afford to pay someone to do so. Details of that proposal have yet to be worked out, including how much it would cost the town and who would be allowed to use it, assistant town manager Greg Deloach said.

Outdoor cooking and small recreational fires are still allowed, as well as outdoor fireplaces approved by the town.

Supporters of the ban, including Lavarn Lucas, chief of the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division, have said open burning poses a wildfire and health risk.

"Smoke from outdoor burning in populated areas can present serious health hazards to individuals with respiratory ailments," according to the motion to approve the ban.

Dot Law, president of the Marshland/Chaplin/Gardner Property Owners Association, questions whether there is a health problem created by the small number of residents who burn yard debris.

"It is a problem that is bigger in mind than in fact," Law said.

On average, less than 150 residents a year request permits from the town to burn yard debris, according to Fire & Rescue, which has issued 34 warnings and one citation for illegal burning this year.

"While it is impossible to accurately guess how many addresses conduct burns without a permit or being caught, it is hard to believe there are more than 175 addresses a year where the burning of yard debris is done on a regular basis," Lucas wrote in a memo to council's Public Safety Committee. "Even if there were 175 addresses known to openly burn yard debris, it is still questionable if that number warrants a debris pickup program."

Of the 251 addresses that received open-burning permits issued by the town since the start of last year, 51 received permits in both 2012 and 2013, and only 10 addresses burned four or more times a year, according to Lucas.

"Someone that is truly cleaning their yard and needing to burn their yard debris would need to do so regularly," he wrote. "While there are some people that would be negatively impacted by a ban on the burning of yard debris, the number of residences that would be negatively impacted is few."

Those caught violating the ban could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $500 or spend up to 30 days in jail.

Lucas said the division will start with warnings for violators unless they've been warned before or if the "burning is egregious, such as burning trash."

"We'll play it on a case-by-case basis," he said.

Video: Resident questions need for Hilton Head burning ban (1:02)

Dot Law, president of the Marshland/Chaplin/Gardner Property Owners Association, questions the need for Hilton Head Island's ban on burning lawn debris. Video by Tom Barton.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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