Emotions still smoldering on burning ban

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 14, 2003

When the city banned leaf burning last January, opinions were plentiful. Residents later simmered down, but now that autumn has arrived, emotions are on the rise as leaves fall to the ground.

&uot;It stinks,&uot; resident Gene Matson said, speaking about the ban, not the smoke caused from burning leaves.

&uot;The smoke hurts nobody,&uot; he said. &uot;I like the smell.&uot;

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Councilor Randy Erdman said that the leaf burning ordinance was passed because of &uot;health issues.&uot; The air was full of smoke, he said, and members of the community were requesting an end to leaf burning.

A major reason for Erdman’s support was an anecdote that a man told him. The man was driving on the freeway and considered stopping in Albert Lea, but once he saw the smoke he continued on to Mason City to spend his money, Erdman said.

Councilor Al Brooks was opposed to the ban, but said his opposition was due to the locale of his constituents.

&uot;I live in a rural area,&uot; he said. His constituents have large yards and their houses are more scattered, and are therefore less affected by smoke. &uot;But I understand the reasons&uot; for the ban, he said.

Although the ban has supporters, many people who were found raking leaves over the weekend wanted to remain anonymous, underscoring the controversial nature of the issue. One suggested that the city provide a free pick-up service for the bags of leaves.

Presently no such system exists. This fall, Albert Lea residents will have to haul their yard waste to the Albert Lea Refuse and Transfer Station or dispose of it some other way.

The transfer station has extended and varied its hours to provide more options for leaf-rakers with jobs, according to Environmental Engineer Steve Jahnke.

Councilor Warren Amundson said he has received calls from constituents requesting that the transfer station hours be extended to include more hours on Saturday evenings and some hours on Sunday.

City Engineer Dave Olson said that it is difficult to schedule and train employees at the transfer station, and though he will look into extending the Saturday hours, it might have to remain closed on Sunday.

An employee at the transfer station will direct visitors to the compost pile, where trucks can back up and dump leaves or bags can be emptied. There is no charge for leaf drop-off, but residents will have to pay to leave brush, Jahnke said.

The leaves from this fall will occasionally be turned over throughout the year and should be decomposed by next fall. Though the decomposed matter does take up space, Jahnke said the transfer station has four or five years worth of storage.

Some residents have alternate storage options. Matson, for example, said he will put his leaves in a swamp located behind his house.

Residents who disobey the burning ban will be committing a petty misdemeanor and could be fined up to $300.

The ordinance includes a ban on the burning of rubbish, trash, leaves and brush. However, according to Firefighter David Moen, recreational fires, those in fire pits and barbecues, are legal if they are at least 25 feet away from structures or combustible materials.

The transfer station is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Beginning Oct. 27, Tuesday and Thursday hours will change to 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

(Contact Benjamin Dipman at ben.dipman@albertleatribune.com or 379-3439.)