Sunday, April 21, 2024

Leland council requests open burning regulations

Leland Town Council directed staff to gather information n regulating open burns within town limits after a discussin on the issue was added to it’s Thursday meeting agenda. (Port City Daily/file phto)

LELAND — The Cape Fear’s second-largest municipality is considering alternatives to a controversial practice loosely regulated by the state.

At the opening of Leland Town Council’s Thursday meeting, Mayor Brenda Bozeman requested the addition of a discussion on open burns to the agenda.

READ MORE:  Why is Cape Fear on fire?

ALSO: Could the Cape Fear use trees to filter water instead of burning them?

“We have a problem,” Bozeman said. “With all the development going on, all this burning of the trees and all, we need to do something.”

Bozeman said she received a recent picture from a resident showing wood smoke so thick in the air the house next door was barely visible from his own yard.

For multiple days in the past few weeks, wood smoke has permeated the Westgate and Waterford areas of the town, resulting in noticeable visual haze and smell.

The discussion went on to address specific points raised in Port City Daily’s ongoing investigative series into development practices in the Cape Fear (the final part of the series will be published early next week).

Bozeman raised the issue that wood smoke can have serious implications for people with chronic illnesses. PCD reported the toxic cocktail can cause heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks in people with heart and lung disease with a lag time of a few days.

“I just think we need to work on this a little bit and see if we can’t come up with something to control it a little bit,” Bozeman said. “Maybe not let them do it in such large parcels. Do a little bit at a time, or even chip it up. They could chip it and use it.”

Councilmember Bill McHugh said he “read something” recently that described turning waste lumber as a water filtration medium. This was a reference to biochar, a type of charcoal made from organic waste material through a chemical process called pyrolysis.

This led in to councilmember Veronica Carter referencing a quote from UNCW geologist Roger Shew from PCD’s story on biochar; Shew noted piles can be arranged to reduce emissions and produce more charcoal with no additional equipment.

McHugh noted he has heard several rumors there is material, not vegetation or trees, being thrown into piles rather than disposed of properly.

“Which I think could potentially give us an enforcement mechanism,” he added.

An open burn containing anything other than vegetative material is prohibited by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Open burn regulation violators can be fined up to $25,000.

Carter commented it appears permits are issued en masse. Data furnished to PCD by the North Carolina Forest Service show more than 10,000 open burn permits were issued in Brunswick, Pender and New Hanover counties last year, with 3,833 issued in Brunswick alone.

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Campbell said he is unsure of what requirements the state places on fires when it issues permits.

“It doesn’t appear any,” Bozeman shot back.

“Well, I don’t know,” Campbell said said. “Maybe there are not and maybe there are and they aren’t being followed. Perhaps [Town Manager David Hollis] or counsel could weigh in on that.”

The requirements, if not otherwise restricted by a local government, is for minimum setback distances from dwellings depending on the type of blaze and that the permit holder may only burn vegetative material. There is no tracking, at the state level, of the amount of material being set aflame.

Hollis advised council staff an ordinance addressing the issue is doable, something Bozeman requested to be done sooner rather than later. Hollis said the town does not enforce or interfere with regulations under the purview of NCDEQ — though it does speak to the department about complaints occasionally — but towns can create additional ordinances that address burning.

“We can look into that and see to what extent, and bring some examples of that back to council and begin that discussion,” Hollis said. 

Carter also pushed to contact NCDEQ “to start a dialogue” and push for more air quality monitors placed in the area so the town can determine when it has poor quality days.

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