Debate over a proposed leaf burning ban in St. Joseph County will begin in November.
The county also plans to seek bids from private companies on a publicly funded curbside leaf pickup program.
St. Joseph County used to offer curbside pickup until the program abruptly ended in 2005.
As for the proposed burn ban, St. Joseph County already has an ordinance designed to protect people from indoor second hand cigarette smoke in public places. Yet, when someone is in their own backyard in the middle of leaf burning season—they’re on their own.
“It’s not just a quality of life issue; it's a health issue as well. You have elderly who have difficulty breathing, you have little kids that can't go outside, and I hear from people who just say even if they're not outside they have their windows shut, the smoke and the stench permeates the houses,” said Councilman Michael Hamann.
Hamann’s proposal seeks to clear the air with a ban on burning within 200 feet of a residence, and within a half mile of a school or nursing home.
The idea is a good one, according to St. Joseph County resident Jerry Strabley. “The problem is, people burn leaves in this area, not as much as they used to, but it’s just like a smog and you know it could be somebody on the other end of the development, but the wind blows it our way.”
The proposed burn ban comes complete with plans to try and re-establish a county wide and publicly funded leaf pickup program. “In years past, we had the county highway do that, that’s just not tenable,” said Councilman Hamann. “But if we can find some private firms that can do this, if the price is right, then, then we're going to try to do that as well, that’ll take some of the burden off.”
Hamann says the county used to spend about $500,000 per year on its old leaf pickup program. He figures bids in the $700,000 range would be affordable.
Gary Hurlbutt of G and H Landscaping says he got into the leaf pickup business—specifically because the county got out. As a small contractor, he was unhappy to hear that the tide may turn again. “The county wide leaf pickup, it would hurt the little guy that’s around in smaller subdivisions, doing people's yards, and a lot of the people in this subdivision are more elderly and can't get their leaves out to the street, so they need help getting leaves out to the street and that makes it handy for that guy to pick up the leaves at the same time so there aren't blowing into somebody else's yard.”
Right now, plans call for a mid-November meeting with potential curbside pickup providers. Eventually, the county plans to seek bids for curbside service.
Meantime, the proposed leaf burning ban is slated for a committee hearing on November 27th.