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Hilltowns Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 19, 2008
A burning issue
By Tyler Schuling
To burn or not to burn?
That question is being put to New Yorkers this month.
Since 1972, open burning of waste has been prohibited only in municipalities with more than 20,000 residents. That may soon change.
The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is now proposing a statewide ban on open burning. This would mean that, in rural areas, the burning of trash would no longer be allowed.
For the next two weeks, the DEC will hold public hearings throughout the state.
“It’s primarily an effort to improve air quality,” said Lori O’Connell, a spokeswoman for the DEC. She said the ban is also an effort to reduce emissions. The public’s response has been mixed, O’Connell said.
Some small towns are against the ban, and are questioning how it would affect their highway departments, transfer stations, and residents. Earlier this year, Westerlo’s town board voted to write a letter in opposition the ban. In Knox, the ban was a consideration as the town rezoned a parcel near its transfer station to allow a cellular tower.
Last week, the Rensselaerville town board passed a resolution to oppose the ban after the town’s building inspector, Mark Overbaugh, encouraged it to go on record with its stance.
“It does affect us out here in this rural area,” Overbaugh said of the ban. “We’re not Delmar. Open burning is something a lot of people utilize for disposing of brush and everything else.”
Rensselaerville Councilwoman Marie Dermody said, “Most people are burning legitimate stuff, and that’s where the issue comes in.”
She said nearly 600 residents in the town of Durham, a small town south of Albany County, have signed a petition opposing the ban.
The DEC says burning trash emits harmful chemicals, including arsenic, carbon monoxide, and lead.
Open burning is the biggest cause of wildfires, according to the department. In 2006, it triggered 98 wildfires, the DEC says, and, between 1986 and 2006, about 40 percent of all wildfires were started by open burning.
The ban has been supported by The American Lung Association of New York State and the Firemen’s Association of New York State.
Should it go into effect, the ban would still allow some fires: campfires, prescribed burns, celebratory bonfires, and fires for fire-training exercises. The burning of agricultural wastes and fires to protect crops from frostbite would also be allowed.
Two public hearings will be held on Wednesday, June 25, at the DEC’s central office in Albany. One will be held in the morning and the other will be held at night.
The DEC will take written comments through July 10, either by mail or e-mail.