Leaves turn into burning issue

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Leaf burning heated up the Tuesday night city council meeting as a topic of a public hearing.

Fourteen residents speaking for or against a ban gave their thoughts to the council during the hearing.

&uot;It causes so much respiratory pollution in the air,&uot; Sandra Chapman, a respiratory therapist, said. &uot;The people with respiratory problems end up in the emergency room or hospital each time we burn leaves. It isn’t very comfortable for them.&uot;

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Ward Three city councilman George Marin had asked for the public hearing after receiving some complaints from constituents about the burning.

&uot;I’ve received 12 calls regarding banning burning,&uot; Marin said. &uot;Only two of those were in favor of keeping things as is.&uot;

The city currently has burn days during the fall: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Some people thought the limit on days might be the problem.

&uot;With limited burning you get everyone burning at once,&uot; Jon Hibbard, an Albert Lea resident, said. &uot;If you open it up from a restricted burn it might help. It gets way too concentrated the way it is now.&uot;

&uot;I’m in favor of the present rules,&uot; Mark Jones, of Albert Lea, said. &uot;I appreciate the breathing problems of people but it happens only nine days a year.&uot;

Vern Oldgren of Albert Lea said, &uot;I have allergies that really act up on burn days. I believe that my right to breathe and be comfortable should overcome people’s needs to burn leaves.&uot;

Others said there was no good alternative&uot;We only get a few days during the year to do this,&uot; said Jim Bronson. &uot;What are we supposed to do with the leaves if we don’t have a burn season?&uot;

City Manager Paul Sparks said there are a few options for the city, but also warned that the budget doesn’t have room for many further expenditures.

According to Sparks, Owatonna and Austin both prohibit burning within city limits. Owatonna has a privately owned leaf dump, but the city does not pick up leaves for them.

In Austin, he said, there is a central compost site and five drop off sites around the city where people can drop their leaves off on certain weekends in the fall. The sites are manned by local youth groups, clubs and sports teams, which receive donations from the city for their work.

Options discussed for Albert Lea were: having a system exactly like Austin’s, using leaf vacuum machines that would pick up leaves raked into the streets, extending the hours on the current leaf dumping site at the Albert Lea refuse transfer station, as well as leaving the law as is.

The council is unable to start any ban on this year because the dates had already been set.

The council agreed, at Sixth Ward councilman Al Brooks’s suggestion, to shelve the decision until the first meeting in January, in order to give city workers enough time to make budgeting sheets for each option that will be considered by the city.