Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Burn permit system is a go

Citing safety and money reasons, the Stillwater County Commissioners on Monday passed the county’s first burn permit system for a one year trial basis.

How It Works
A would-be burner will purchase a permit once a year for $8. Of that amount, $3 goes to the state for use of the automated system and $5 goes to the county to be used for a mass education program the first year the permit policy is in effect. Permits after the first year drop to $5.
Permits can be purchased online, by phone or in person at the Clerk & Recorders Office. On the day of a desired burn, the permit holder either calls an automated line or logs onto a dedicated website. If there are no restrictions that day, the permit is activated and the permit holder tells the system exactly where they will be conducting the burn.
That activation then goes to the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Dispatch for tracking purposes. That is an important element because historically, when calls come into dispatch about smoke, there is no definite way to know if that smoke is the result of a controlled burn or an uncontrolled burn, meaning fire crews are sent out to investigate.
A dispatcher will now be able to check the location called in and immediately know if fire crews need to respond or if it is simply a controlled burn.
If there are restrictions in place, the permit holder is notified at the time of activation. As explained by Fire Warden Carol Arkell, a limited number of circumstances can cause the county to prohibit burning an any given day, including the following:
•Being in Stage 1 or Stage 2 Fire Restrictions
•Being under NOAA red flag warning conditions
•When resources are depleted, such as an uncontrolled burn somewhere in the county that is drawing fire fighting resources.
The county has been broken down into four districts for the purpose of the burn permit system: Absarokee, Columbus, Park City and North. Forest Service lands that fall within the county are their own district and retain their own burning policies.
Any one of these districts can be shut down at any time at the request of fire officials.

The resolution establishes a fire season of Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 and sets forth violations of burning without a permit can result in being charged with a misdemeanor crime. The system will be administered by Arkell.

During the weeks leading up to decision, supporters and opponents made their voices known. Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger, the Columbus Rural Fire District, Park City Fire Chief Bryan Bartholomew, Molt Fire Chief Steve Doely and Stillwater County Sheriff Cliff Brophy were in support. Against the proposal were Assistant Nye Fire Chief David Russell as well as some Absarokee, Nye and Park City residents.
Moments after passing a burn permit resolution Monday afternoon, Stillwater County Commissioner Jerry Dell stood and made a strong statement.
Three years ago, when talk of a permit system started, Dell said he was “on the fence” and had in fact voted to table the topic pending more information.
“I changed my mind,” Dell told the group gathered in the fairgrounds pavilion, noting that he “represents a district that is totally against this.”
Commissioner Maureen Davey said the permit system was a matter of safety for fire crews and the county.
Former Fire Warden George Bokma also spoke at the meeting, saying that while some may think the system is inconvenient, making a phone call is much less inconvenient than having to use tax dollars “to fight your fire.”