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No burning desire to limit backyard fires

Forest Grove holds off on a burn ban until annexation issues are resolved

Depending on your point of view, it was either a welcome reprieve or a vexing delay, but Forest Grove City Councilors on Monday decided to put the discussion of backyard burning on the back-burner.

Mayor Pete Truax has long said he'd like to phase out the practice of allowing city residents to burn yard debris, which he says poses environmental and health risks.

At the urging of the council, Fire Chief Michael Kincaid this spring gave councilors three options to move forward. Keep the status quo, ban all backyard burning or come up with a modified burn policy that allows limited burning inside the city limits.

Kincaid on Monday reported that the city's public safety advisory committee had discussed the options and voted to support some sort of a modified burn ban.

Councilors, however, are in no rush to follow the committee into what could be a controversial proposal. Their reluctance stems from an earlier decision to drop another political hot-potato: annexation.

More than 200 properties in Forest Grove are surrounded by the city but legally not part of it. Owners of these 'islands' don't get certain city services, including sewer and police protection, and pay a premium to receive city water. At the same time, they don't pay city property taxes or fees and aren't subject to city ordinances and instead must follow Washington County regulations.

Councilors had looked at forcibly annexing these properties, but backed off after it became clear that most property owners would strenuously object - and do so as the city was looking to ask voters to extend a property tax levy.

The decision on annexation affects backyard burning because 'island' residents would not subject to any city limits, instead following county regulations which allow backyard burning during the spring and fall.

City Councilor Victoria Lowe said that until the annexation issue is resolved any change in backyard burning 'will cause us more problems than we have now.'

Burn ban starts Friday

Washington County's fall backyard burning season, which started on Oct. 1, ends on Friday, Dec. 16. The next open burn season will start March 1 and run through June 15, with day-to-day restrictions based on conditions. The open-burn hotline is 503-992-3242.