Opinion

Countywide burn ban proposed

By AMELIA HEAGERTY

Staff reporter

Burning yard debris and building material scraps outdoors may soon be illegal on Vashon.

Currently, residential outdoor burning is illegal in cities and urban growth areas in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. But a proposed burn ban would bring rural areas like Vashon in line with cities and suburbs, outlawing outdoor brush and debris burning in 2010.

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, with the counties involved, found there are enough alternatives to burning in all areas, making outdoor land-clearing burning unnecessary.

The health effects of outdoor burnings are well-documented: The smoke contains tiny carcinogenic particles that are detrimental to everyone’s health, especially children and elderly people. Over time, the smoke causes and worsens respiratory problems, and even one whiff of it can trigger an asthma attack.

Alternatives to burning unwanted natural debris on Vashon are limited compared to cities and suburbs, many of which have curbside yard waste pickup programs.

Some Islanders have championed brush piles: Drag all the unwanted yard waste into a out-of-the-way corner, make a pile, and leave it there. These unkempt but animal-friendly piles decompose naturally.

“Fires do us no good environmentally and we’re losing the chance to have a brush pile that long-term actually does some good,” said Islander Jack Stewart, who is a member of the Forest Stewards. He said he has brush piles on his own property and does not consider them eyesores.

“I keep piling stuff on them and piling stuff on them and they don’t get any bigger because the stuff on the bottom keeps on rotting back into the earth,” Stewart said. “I dump a pile of leaves I don’t want in my garden on the pile and then I leave it. It seems easier than burning.”

And The Dirt Yard is another alternative to incinerating leaves in autumn. It accepts pickup truck loads of yard debris at $15 a pop, said Dirt Yard owner Dennis Didricksen.

“In the city they can take all the wood material to pulp mills and get paid for it,” he said. But on Vashon there are two options: the dump or The Dirt Yard, which grinds down yard debris into wood chips that Islanders then buy for their yards.

The only other alternative is much less Earth-friendly: taking a load of biodegradable waste to the dump for $90 a ton, Didricksen said.

The three-county wide burn ban would be the first of its kind, and proponents said they’ll herald its arrival.

“2010 can’t come soon enough,” said Sara Van Fleet, an Islander who led a campaign in her neighborhood earlier this year to stamp out yard waste burning. “It’s a serious problem, and I’m delighted there are people working on this further.”

There are some who have balked at past proposals and likely bristle at this proposed ban as well. None were available for comment. But several Islanders spoke out, explaining why the ban is a good idea.

“I don’t know why a guy living on Vashon should be different than a guy living in Seattle,” said Bill Ameling, Vashon Park District commissioner. “It’s the same old Vashon thing: I want to live out in the country and I want my city amenities, my (yard waste service). It doesn’t work like that.”

Stewart, who builds homes on the Island, said he was driven from a job site multiple times by the smoke from an adjoining property’s fires.

“On beautiful spring days, which are crisp and fine, you get people smoking up the air,” he said. “I think the general population’s right to good clean air totally trumps somebody’s right to make unnecessary fires.”

Recreational, agricultural and fire training burning will not be affected by the proposed ban, and neither will emergency debris burning with a permit following a flood or storm.

“As long as you can do a little recreational burning,” Ameling said. “But then its up to you to prove its recreational, I guess you could be having a good time burning your yard waste.”

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency will hold a public hearing on the proposed burn ban at 9:15 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Seattle Public Library’s Microsoft Auditorium at 1000 Fourth Ave.

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