Hilton Head to revisit burning ban

tbarton@islandpacket.comJanuary 22, 2014 

The Town of Hilton Head Island will revisit its ban on the open burning of lawn debris after failing to find an alternative for residents unable to haul yard waste away.

The decision came after several leaders of the native-islander community argued during Tuesday's Town Council meeting that the ban should be repealed.

It took effect Nov. 10, leaving some residents of large lots in north- and mid-island neighborhoods wondering how they will dispose of limbs and brush.

"To clean one side of my house, you get 10 to 14 bags of leaves," Elnora Aiken told council. "I have a Honda. How am I going to take that to the (Beaufort County) convenience center or drop-off site if I can't burn it? Please, for the love of God, show some mercy for us."

Council's Public Safety Committee had recommended the town provide drop-off sites where residents could drop off their debris one week in the spring and again in the fall. The town would then pay to have the debris removed and rely on residents and volunteer organizations to organize a pick-up program for those unable to haul limbs and brush to the drop-off sites.

No organization, though, has said it would take on such a project, and one, The Deep Well Project, has said it does not have the resources to do so, according to town staff.

Town Council sent the issue back to committee for further review."I felt it was a good thing to do for health reasons ... but, clearly (it) comes with ramification I didn't realize at the time," Councilwoman Kim Likins said. "It does seem impossible for everyone out there to haul debris to a trash site."

Supporters of the ban, including Chief Lavarn Lucas of the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division, have said open burning poses wildfire and health risks to those with respiratory ailments, and can be a nuisance to neighbors.

Opponents argue the ban is unnecessary because Fire & Rescue data indicates fewer than 150 residents request permits to burn yard debris in a typical year.

Accounting for those who burn without a permit, Lucas told the committee he believed no more than 175 addresses a year regularly burn yard debris.

Given the few number of residents who burn, town officials have questioned whether a debris pickup program is warranted. The committee considered providing curb-side pickup for income-eligible residents, but worried such an islandwide program would result in a large-scale operation exceeding council's intent and consume significant staff time.

Also, many of the island's neighborhoods already have restrictive covenants that ban burns, and their residents pay to have lawn trash hauled away.

Councilman Marc Grant, who represents the north-island neighborhoods where open burning was most prevalent, claims council has turned what was a small concern into a larger problem by enforcing a ban and then rushing to figure out how to accommodate those residents who have long relied on burning to keep yards tidy.

Before the ban, residents were allowed to burn yard debris on some parts of the island from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. two weeks of every month with a permit issued by the Fire & Rescue division.

Mayor Drew Laughlin suggested the town repeal the ban but reduce the amount of time residents are allowed to burn to four to six weeks a year.

"It reduces the problem without making it impossible for folks to burn," Laughlin said. "... And it advances the interest of public health without these adverse ramifications."

The Public Safety Committee will revisit the issue at its Feb. 3 meeting.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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