RW burn Ordinance is toast

RIDGEWAY – Town Council torched first reading of a proposed burn ordinance during its June 8 meeting. The ordinance, which was proposed by local attorney Robert Hartman at the May meeting, called for a prohibition of any burning in the downtown area of Ridgeway and would restrict burning anywhere in the town within 350 feet of homes unless permission to burn had been granted from the non-burning parties. An exception was made in the ordinance for cooking fires during the town’s annual Pig on the Ridge festival in November. The ordinance set punishment for illegal burns from $250-$500 per occurrence.

Hartman said he recently became concerned about the lack of a burning prohibition in the town when a neighbor proceeded with a rubbish burn within 20 feet of his office, despite winds that he said were over 20 miles per hour. Hartman said he is concerned about the age of the buildings in downtown Ridgeway, some of which date back to the 1800s, and particularly the heart pine material used in the construction of many of the buildings.

“It’s like kindling,” he pointed out.

Councilman Heath Cookendorfer quickly objected to the proposed ordinance.

“To say you can’t burn except for one week a year is kind of like arbitrary,” Cookendorfer said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. It says ‘yes,’ you can but ‘no,’ you can’t.”

The ordinance was met by other critics as well. During open citizens’ comment, resident Dan Martin stated that he could use his propane grill according to the ordinance, but could not take the same propane tank from his grill and use it in his fire pit.

“It (the ordinance) seems to micromanage the entire town with new laws or ordinances when a couple of people have issues or disagreements. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say we, as an adult community, cannot control ourselves with our fire unless we pass a law to tell us how to do it or not do it. It’s ridiculous,” Martin said. He also agreed with Cookendorfer that excluding enforcement of the burn ordinance for Pig on the Ridge was at odds with the logic of necessitating a burn ordinance in the first place.

Another sticking point for Council was the proposed distance of 350 feet from any other structure.

“That’s far,” Councilman Don Porter said.

“That’s too much,” Council Don Prioleau said.

“By reading this ordinance, I can’t have my grandkids over in my backyard for a cookout because of how close my residence is to houses, you know, definitely within 350 feet,” Cookendorfer said. “It’s too restrictive.”

“Instead of adopting this ordinance, we could take our current ordinance and maybe tweak it for things like making sure people call (the fire station) and give their phone number and contact number before they burn,” Mayor Charlene Herring suggested. “Then if you want to consider a certain distance for burning, we can come back at the next meeting with that.”

The town’s current burn ordinance does not address setbacks for rubbish burning, but makes it unlawful for anyone to burn combustible materials and gives the Town the right to fine or jail anyone who does not remove fire hazards from their properties within 10 days.

Council voted to consider making changes to its current ordinance at a later time.