Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Proposed burn permit system draws support and opposition

A proposed burn permit system designed to allow officials to monitor and even prevent burning in hazardous conditions drew both support and opposition at a public hearing Tuesday.
Approximately 23 people poured into a conference room in the courthouse for the hearing conducted by the Stillwater County Commissioners. Fire Warden Carol Arkell and Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger explained the proposed system would involve an applicant purchasing a permit once a year for $8, then $5 for each year after. The applicant is given a permit number that they would activate through an automated system on the day of the desired burn. That automated system would tell the applicant whether or not burning is permitted on that given day.
Conditions that could prompt authorities to “shut down” burning could include red flag weather and current fires, said Cowger.
The system would also be accessible by dispatchers. This is important as currently, citizens who conduct controlled burns are asked call dispatch on a voluntary basis. This helps dispatchers know whether or not fire crews need to be sent to check on reports of smoke.
For years, when reports of smoke columns have been called into dispatch, fire crews have been sent to investigate, often finding controlled burns. Another issue has been controlled burns getting out of control, necessitating the response of fire crews. Some of these controlled burns have resulted in massive fires, including the 2006 Saunders Fire that scorched 3,000 acres and burned two homes, said Cowger.
The permit system is an existing software program operated by the state. There are currently 15 counties that use it, said Commissioner Maureen Davey.
Speaking in favor of implementing the system were Cowger, the Rural Fire District, Sheriff Cliff Brophy, Pine Crest resident and sheriff’s office employee Tammie Mullikin, Reed Point resident and fire fighter Terry Brumfield and Park City fire fighter John Briggs. Those submitting letters in favor of the burn permit system were Broadview resident Travis Jones, Molt Fire Chief Steve Doely and Park City Fire Chief Bryan Bartholomew.
Speaking in opposition were Assistant Nye Fire Chief David Russell, Park City resident Chris Southworth, Larry Gee of Rapelje, Absarokee fire fighter Corey Arnold and resident Tim Walwrath.
Russell laid the responsibility of knowing where controlled burns were being conducted on dispatchers, saying “isn’t that their duty?”
Gee said people in his area “know better” than to burn in dangerous conditions. Arnold said he didn’t see what impact the permit system would have on fire crews checking on smoke columns because crews were obligated to investigate such calls anyway.
Walwrath opposed the system “on principle” and Southworth said he couldn’t support it until his questions about enforcement could be answered.
Commissioner Gerald Dell told the group that many questions posed would be addressed in resolutions establishing the permit system and that it would be a difficult decision to make. Written public comments will be accepted through May 29 and a special meeting will be held on June 1 at 1:30 p.m. by the commissioners. More information is available on the county website.