TEMPERANCE - Bedford Township's first season with sharply reduced burning hours has just passed, and township officials are wondering whether they ought to curtail leaf burning further or find some other way to get rid of the annual mess.
Among the solutions being considered is formation of a special assessment district that would tax residents in mostly older areas of the township to pay for their leaves to be hauled off for composting.
Earlier this year, Bedford Township board members outlawed open burning during most of the week, and voted instead to allow the practice between 2 and 6 p.m. on Fridays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. A requirement that residents get a permit to burn their leaves was rescinded.
Previously, the township permitted burning times from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday. The new hours went into effect April 1.
“We have to study putting together a special assessment district in order to have leaf pickup in areas that have the highest concentration of burning, rather than banning burning throughout the township,” township clerk Bob Schockman said.
While advocating any new tax is usually considered anathema to continuing a political career, Mr. Schockman said he thinks a special assessment district for leaf pickup might be welcomed by most township residents.
“It would be a highly defined area. Mostly, it would be south of Temperance Road, with some other pockets elsewhere,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there who really express a lot of negativity about burning. They really don't like it. We get a lot of people ... complaining bitterly about burning during the burning season.”
Township officials have searched for a resolution to the quiet dispute between residents protecting what they say is a right to burn their yard wastes and those who believe health and safety risks associated with the practice outweigh that right. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, burning leaves fill the air for days with dangerous hydrocarbons, pollutants, and particulates, including some that are extremely carcinogenic.
Michigan law bans open burning of yard waste in townships with populations in excess of 7,500 residents, but permits it if the high-population townships choose to allow the practice.
Mr. Schockman said several things might affect the decision on whether to establish a special assessment district for leaves, including such items as cost and whether a majority of township residents are interested.
“We did some research on this last [month], and it's doable. It can be done,” Mr. Schockman said. “But if the costs are too high, we're not even going to put this forward.”
The township has tried using special assessment districts as a means to rid itself of problems. A proposal to levy a little over $7 a year to pay for snow removal in the township's subdivisions died in 1999 when residents packed a board meeting to denounce it. Just how residents would react to paying for someone to haul away leaves when they can burn them legally for free remains to be seen, officials said.
“The special assessment districts are an option,” trustee Arnold Jennings said. “The other option is composting, but trying to find free land [on which to operate a compost facility] is a real tough nut to crack.”
Mr. Jennings said the issue of fall burning isn't going away. “It's a concern with everybody,” Mr. Jennings said. “We go through it every season and have the same concerns and same problems year in and year out. As we continue to grow, the problems only get worse.”
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