Hilton Head should repeal ban on burning yard debris

info@islandpacket.comJanuary 31, 2014 

A rule for the sake of making a rule is never a good idea. But that appears to be what Hilton Head Island Town Council did in November, enacting a ban on burning lawn debris that is illogical and does not take into account the consequences.

From the onset, we opposed this unnecessary prohibition on burning lawn clippings, leaves and branches for several reasons, chief among them being that Town Council failed to provide an alternative for residents who rely on the burns to keep their yards tidy. In fact, council approved the ban before developing a new disposal plan for these residents.

When the town finally got around to looking into alternatives, it determined that too few residents burn yard trash to warrant a debris pickup program. No more than 175 addresses a year regularly burn yard debris, even when taking into account those who burn without a permit, according to Lavarn Lucas, chief of the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division.

That's left a handful of residents with no way to haul away limbs and leaves. Several leaders of the native-islander community rightfully complained about the situation to Town Council earlier this month.

"To clean one side of my house, you get 10 to 14 bags of leaves," town resident Elnora Aiken told council at a recent meeting. "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?"

We're pleased Town Council is now reconsidering its prohibition, and we urge its members to vote to repeal it.

Council members say their intent was to eliminate the smoke produced by the burns, which poses a health risk to those with respiratory ailments.

That is true -- so is the fact that recreational and cooking fires as well as outdoor fireplaces also produce smoke that poses a health risk. And based on the town's research, these fires are likely more prevalent on the island. But exemptions were made for these activities.

If Town Council is set on eliminating smoke, it should ban all of these fires instead of arbitrarily deciding that, in some instances, smoke is allowable, but in the instance of burning yard debris -- a practice most common among native-islanders -- it is dangerous.

Better yet, they should simply repeal the ban and go back to allowing burns for the handful of residents who need them. Before the ban, residents could burn yard debris from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. two weeks of every month with a permit.

That timeframe still makes sense. And with continued careful policing from the Fire & Rescue division, the burns can be conducted safely and help ensure tidy yards across the island.

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