Council adopts new outdoor burning ordinance
The Town Councilors Tuesday tackled several issues during a twoand a-halfhour session, and continued several other items:
• They heard a north end resident predict high costs for the town to meet new state requirements for properly closing the town’s former landfill.
• They considered new hunting laws, possibly designated on an emergency basis, to deal with the island’s deer overpopulation during the twomonth hunting season that begins next month. They appointed a new wildlife committee to study deer control and all animal concerns on a long-term basis.
• They approved a new, tough, open burning ordinance that has been simmering through several meetings.
Ray Iannetta of North Main Road scoffed at a characterization of new state requirements as being “minor.” He predicted the new state order that the town would have to remove decaying matter to make way for a new highway barn at the landfill site will cost at least $1 million, doubling the onceattractive estimate of $1.1 million to build the barn there. The estimate was based on the cost to transfer nearly 8,000 tons of decaying landfill material to the state Central Landfill in Johnston. Iannetta said it could be considerably more if more tonnage needs to be removed or if any of the decaying matter is found to be hazardous.
Iannetta is a leader of the North End Concerned Citizens, whose concerns about possible contamination at the former landfill blocked locating a new highway barn on a site adjacent to the former landfill a few years ago. The group continues to lobby for tighter anti-contamination work at the site. The councilors did not respond to Iannetta’s comments this week.
Public Works Director Steven Goslee last month referred to the new state requirements for the landfill as “minor.” At Tuesday’s meetings, he again did not respond to Iannetta’s remarks.
The councilors Tuesday talked about possible new hunting laws to respond to the deer overpopulation on the island. They continued talks to their next meeting, Monday, Oct. 17, as an agenda addition to their usual meeting on water and sewer items.
They asked Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch to outline procedures should they want to modify any hunting laws that apply to Jamestown.
Harsch said that the state has authority over all hunting on the island, but the state usually tries to apply all its practices in co-ordination with local authorities. He also said that some provision exists for the council to take quick action on an emergency basis.
Virtually all officials and residents who have spoken publicly agree that the deer herd has grown to be a problem, with some also saying that the number of deer are a health threat because the deer ticks they carry spread serious diseases to humans. There has, however, been no agreement on how the size of the deer herd should be controlled, because some residents insist that a non-lethal means must be used. Those promoting hunting have countered that nonlethal methods are not effective.
Some council discussion this week was based on the review of town laws and policies, as summarized by Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks. He was not present for the discussion because he is recuperating from pneumonia that had him hospitalized in recent days, according to Harsch.
Parks wrote that the town ordinances prohibit hunting with a “rifled firearm” and forbid hunting on town reservoirs or adjacent watershed lands. Those are subject to change only through a process that includes at least one public hearing and formal council vote.
Parks also wrote that town policies exist against shotguns and against hunting on Sundays. He said those policies are of unknown origin and they are not enforceable. The town would have to adopt ordinances if they wanted to ban shotgun use or Sunday hunting, he said.
Council President David Long also called for the clarification of rules that impact hunting at the Beavertail State Park. Hunting there was blocked last year by a flurry of opinions about the impact of state and federal regulations that may supersede town decisions, but these were not researched or verified last year.
The councilors asked several questions about procedures to add or change rules, but were not clear whether they would expand hunting, or restrict it by making unenforceable new laws. There was an exchange between Councilor Barbara Szepatowski, who said Sunday hunting might upset too many residents, and Councilman William Kelly who thought residents already accept frequent shooting sounds, whether the shots are from hunting, target practice, or any other possibility.
New wildlife group Council members this week also appointed seven residents to the newly created wildlife committee that will study long-term methods to control the size of the island’s deer herd. They noted that the committee’s formation does not limit the council’s own authority to act immediately if the councilors choose to.
Named to the committee were Richard Rembijas, to represent the hunting, fishing community; Wendy Harvey, C. Christopher Savastano and Andrew Ford, to represent citizens at large; Steve Ryba, as Conservation Commission representative; Nancy Crawford, representing the Humane Society of Jamestown; and Szepatowski, as council liaison. Yet to be appointed are a representative for the Audubon Society, the Town Tree Preservation and Protection Committee or a police department liaison.
Town Clerk Arlene Petit was assigned to co-ordinate the committee’s first meeting as soon as possible, and to provide the new panel with information about organizational practices and state laws that govern public meetings.
Szepatowski called for high fines for violation of the town’s new open burning ordinance. She expressed concerns about examples of residents who ignored earlier town rules about use of fires. She also questioned the role of open burning in the destruction last year of a house where the fire was classified by investigators as being of unknown origin. She referred to the dangers of fire in a community that includes so much area outside the protection of fire hydrants.
“If someone is stupid or irresponsible enough (to burn in violation of the ordinance), they need to be put on notice,” Szepatowski said about tough penalties. “We are too gentle, too nice” with our fines in many ordinances, she added.
Councilman Michael Schnack agreed. “If we have an ordinance that requires something and someone does not do as required, they need a consequence and we need to make it a deterrent,” he said.
Several months ago, Fire Marshal Arthur Christman asked for a tougher law because of harassment and abuse to which he was subjected to while trying to enforce the old burning ordinance. He said it was the first time ever that he had been confronted with such threatening behavior in his more than 30 years of public service.
The new ordinance has taken some months to develop as local authorities, especially other fire officials, rewrote and added to the measures that Christman initially proposed. He expressed frustration over the summer about the slowness in getting an effective ordinance in place. He recounted a new confrontation last weekend with an unnamed resident who insisted on burning without a permit. Christman said this week that he supported all the recommendations that had been included in the final draft of the ordinance. The proposed ordinance provided for a $100 fine for the first offense and a $200 fine for the second offense. The councilors adopted the ordinance with a $200 fine for the first offense and a $499 fine for the second offense. When they considered a $500 fine for the second offense, Interim Town Administrator Thomas Tighe, the town police chief, advised that the suggested amount would change the offense from a misdemeanor to a felony. Harsch explained the implications of the offense status, leading to the council to decide on a $499 fine.
The councilors added a provision for a court summons for a third offense, or for failure to pay either fine within 30 days. They also designated $10 of the $25 cost of a burning permit to go to the Jamestown Fire Department’s fire education fund.
Philip Willis of North Main Road told the council that he was growing 6,000 seedlings into 30-foot trees on his property, and he needs to burn those damaged by wind, weather, disease, and insects. He said burning should be done only in rain or snow, not on dry, hot days. The time elements of the ordinance were too constraining, he said. The ordinance requires that a permit be obtained within 72 hours of burning, that the materials to be burned be inspected by fire officials, and that neighbors be notified 48 hours before the burning starts.
Councilors did not change these time elements.
Hazel Turley of Seaside Drive detailed her observations on the abuses of bonfires, especially in connection with holiday, party, neighborhood or beach functions. She said a significant practice was adding to the bonfire as it was in progress. She asked about enforcement of the ordinance’s ban on adding to the materials after inspection. Turley expressed concern about witnessing bonfires built too close to tents used for parties. She promised to continue her vigilance and report abuses and hazards she witnesses.
Dennis Webster of Mount Hope Avenue pointed out a misuse of abbreviations in the proposed ordinance that would have limited campfires to Fort Getty, rather than citing the location as an example. That was corrected.
Christman concluded that “they all know the law, and they all break it. They need to follow the law. Do not just light a fire. Get a permit.”