Open burning ban's fate left in hands of voters

SHADY COVE — Voters will decide in November whether open burning will be banned within the city limits.

An initiative petition that would essentially ban all outdoor burning except cooking fires has secured enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The City Council had drafted a less restrictive burning ordinance, but the initiative derailed their proposal.

"In five weeks, less than a half dozen citizens collected and submitted 317 signatures to the County Elections Department," said Doug Van Gordon, who spearheaded the drive. Signatures from 254 registered voters are adequate to qualify it for the ballot.

When 272 of those signatures were verified, Jackson County elections officials returned the petition to the city. County officials explained that Oregon law left the City Council with three choices: they could present an alternate initiative for the ballot; adopt the initiative as a city ordinance; or vote against the initiative.

The unanimous 4-0 vote against the measure guaranteed it will appear on the general election ballot.

Van Gordon said he was pleased the council was going to let the people decide the issue.

"I don't believe this initiative is going to fail," he said. "If I believed that, I never would have spent all this time and effort to get it on the ballot."

Van Gordon then urged the council not to adopt a compromise open burning ban ordinance drafted by Shady Cove Mayor Ruth Keith.

Keith said she felt the ordinance should be in place in case the ballot initiative did fail.

"I commend the mayor for acting so swiftly in attempting to reach a compromise on this issue," Van Gordon said, "and had it been presented two years ago, I probably would have been in favor of it.

"If the burn ban measure fails in November, let the next City Council decide how to handle the issue."

Shady Cove resident, Art Sugden, said he would oppose a burn ban as long as the city offers no other alternatives for disposing of leaves and landscape waste.

"We have a lot of debris that comes from trees," he said, "and if you can't burn it, it's just going to pile up. Most residents can't afford the $150-$200 to haul it away."

He asked the City Council to consider the current California fires.

"If you've been down there recently you know the effect of having debris on the ground," he said. "It catches fire and burns. "¦ Letting this stuff build up is just a time bomb waiting to explode."

Councilman Gary Hughes, who supports the upcoming ballot measure, said he still had concerns about the compromise ordinance. He suggested several changes, including a 500-yard buffer zone around Shady Cove School, where burning would not be allowed when school was in session.

"This is quite an involved ordinance and it still doesn't address the safety and health concerns I have," he said.

After a long discussion, the council voted 3-1, to end further consideration of the compromise ordinance. Mayor Keith cast the opposing vote.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. E-mail him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

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