Phoenix Council talks more on burn ban

PHOENIX — Phoenix will remain one of a handful of cities that allows residential outdoor burning for at least another few weeks.

Presented with a request by John Becker, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality air quality manager for Southern Oregon, to ban open burning by residents, council members discussed a handful of exceptions they'd like to review and voiced concerns about government intrusion on personal freedoms and on the economic impact a burn ban would have on the city's lower income and elderly population.

Becker said he was surprised at the delay after approaching the city last spring to request a wood stove change-out ordinance, which was immediately passed, in addition to a ban on open burning. The wood stove program requires old, inefficient stoves to be removed or replaced when a property is sold.

"I was a bit taken aback because the City Council was different in the spring, and they were all in favor of it then," Becker said.

Concerns were brought up by Councilman Mike McKey, who was not on the council last spring, regarding the economic impact and increasing government restrictions on residents.

McKey, who started the conversation by confessing that he burns yard debris in a burn barrel, said the city should draft an ordinance to meet the needs of its residents rather than "blindly going along with what DEQ wants."

"We're going to take a good look at it. I think we're going to be a little bit more 'not just going along,'" McKey said. "My problem with DEQ is they want the cities to be the heavies. DEQ can regulate the whole thing by their number of what's a green day, etc., etc. But if they want to stop all this stuff, they need to stop it at the county level and not push it on the cities."

Becker told council members that while the city likely did not contribute greatly to the valley's air quality problems that long-term, extended outdoor burning could affect air quality enough to cause problems for the valley's attainment requirements.

Cities are targeted for such changes because they are more densely populated and can potentially create the most concentrated problems with poor air quality. A burn barrel in a city can cause problems for a lot more people than one in a sparsely populated county area, and a lot of burn barrels in a concentrated area can cause violations of federal air quality standards.

If Phoenix were dubbed one of the valley's worst areas for air quality, Becker said a monitoring station could be posted there, Becker said. Poor air quality affects the livability of the city and could cost the city federal funding.

Becker said that while a handful of cities have tweaked their ordinances on outdoor burning, none has opted to allow open burning.

Council members asked Becker about an exemption for outdoor barbecue pits and patio fireplaces.

"Like I said the other night in Phoenix, we don't really regulate those backyard deals. We have kind of a tough time even regulating wood stoves. It's 'a person's home is their castle' kind of thing," Becker said. "But in terms of outdoor burning of debris, air quality is so much better now in the valley but ongoing burning could potentially put us into nonattainment.

"Government regulations are not why I do this. I do this because I'm a clean air advocate. "¦ Communities with cleaner air have greater livability but also develop better and smoother and faster because those are the kind of neighborhoods people want to move into. People don't want to be in a neighborhood with open burn smoke."

Council President Bruce Sophie said the council would likely revisit the issue in February or March and pass a ban with some exceptions.

"What I'm thinking about, for residential burning is, when people want to burn, we could give out a daily type of permit, based on that day and whether the emissions are OK," Sophie said. "The biggest argument is the cost involved. We have a lot of lower-income residents. You can say it's only 20 or 30 dollars but some of these people might not have enough money for food or meds."

Sophie was also concerned with excessively restricting residents.

"My feeling is you have to look at the long term. As things change, what's not to say, somewhere along the line laws change and all of a sudden you can't even barbecue outside? We've had some very strange laws come down — like 24/7 school zones."

He added, "We want to have it well documented: what is acceptable, what can work and what is acceptable for the environment."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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