Hilton Head's burning ban is heavy-handed, unnecessary

info@islandpacket.comNovember 14, 2013 

Based on the town's own data, we question whether Hilton Head's new burning ban is necessary.

A prohibition on burning lawn clippings, leaves, branches and other yard debris took effect last Sunday. But, on average, fewer than 150 residents request burning permits from the town each year.

While some residents may be burning without the required permits, we doubt it's very many. The town's Fire & Rescue Division is doing a solid job of policing the activity, issuing 34 warnings and one citation for illegal burning this year alone.

The prohibition is also duplicative. Many of the island's neighborhoods have restrictive covenants that ban burns. Instead, these residents pay for their lawn trash to be hauled away.

But not all residents can afford a hauling service. It's troubling that the ban appears to disproportionately affect native islanders, giving the ban an unfortunate racial element. Several native islander community leaders have spoken out against the ban to no avail.

And most bothersome: Town Council approved the ban without first providing an alternative to residents who rely on burns to keep their yards tidy. It's a case of putting the horse before the cart.

Council is now considering providing debris pickup for some of the affected residents, but important details, including cost and exactly who can use the service, have not been worked out.

Other arguments for the ban fail to make the grade. Lavarn Lucas, chief of the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division, has said smoke from the burns pose a health risk to those with respiratory ailments. If that's a true concern, the town must also outlaw outdoor, recreational and cooking fires as well as outdoor fireplaces, all of which are more prevalent on the island, and collectively, likely yield more smoke than yard burns. But exemptions were made for these activities.

And the argument that burns could lead to uncontrolled fires fails to take into account that the state has the authority to ban outdoor burning. In July 2011, the S.C. Forestry Commission imposed a red-flag fire alert on much of the state, including Beaufort County, halting outdoor burnings because of drought conditions.

Unfortunately, it's too late to roll back the ban. The least town leaders can do is offer an alternative to yard trash burning that doesn't burn holes in residents' wallets.

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