Committee OKs relaxing Hilton Head burning ban

rlurye@islandpacket.comFebruary 11, 2014 

STOCK

The Town of Hilton Head Island Public Safety Committee recommended scaling back a ban on burning yard debris Tuesday by offering residents two days each month to burn.

Council could vote on the committee's recommendation as soon as March 4, according to Councilman Bill Harkins.

The recommendation followed criticism from members of the native-islander community that town council failed to provide a pickup system for residents' debris. The ban -- which took effect Nov. 10 -- left many residents of north- and mid-island neighborhoods with no alternatives to prevent a buildup of branches and leaves in their yards, they said.

In his initial proposal Tuesday evening, Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division Chief Lavarn Lucas suggested allowing burns four weeks out of the year, in March, April, November and December. Opponents of the ban said they needed a better compromise.

"After each high wind, limbs are strewn all over the place, so we have to deal with it to keep our yards nice and clean," said David Murray of the Squire Pope Road area. "But the process of having it sit there two or three months at a time, with rats and snakes accumulating under the branches, is not a good idea."

The new proposed ordinance would set aside two days each month designated for burning. Households would apply for a permit only once, but call the fire division each day they planned to burn.

Lucas modeled the other regulations in his proposal after the International Fire Code, removing a restriction on the number of piles a residents can burn at once. The new ordinance would also relax rules on the size of fires that people can build more than 50 feet from a structure or stored combustible materials.

Supporters of the ban said they remained concerned open burning causes health and environmental problems and poses a risk of property damage and injuries.

"This for me is a major departure from where I think we should be," Harkins said. "But let's walk before we run. Let's start up with two days a month."

Additionally, the fire division would no longer interfere with legal burns unless they became too large for a resident to control.

"We would no longer be putting fires out because we have a lady crying on the phone that she has to go to the doctor to get treatment because she's breathing in smoke," Lucas said.

The committee also recommended a group of citizens and town officials meet quarterly to evaluate the ordinance. That committee would present a report after a year, including the potential addition or subtraction of burn days.

"I suggest we try it out with a clean sheet of paper," Councilman John McCann said, "(and) not go in with a plan of what we're going to do."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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