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Burn ban unnecessary, punitive

Owners of large parcels cannot dispose of debris any other way

The proposal to limit and/or ban burning has a significant impact on small acreages in the city.

Yes, Gresham is rapidly losing its rural identity, but this proposal could accelerate that loss, as it makes the upkeep of the remaining properties increasingly more difficult. The transition from rural to urban is inevitable, and it is happening rapidly. A city that values its livability should protect and treasure these larger parcels as long as they are still in existence. They are irreplaceable and add much to our quality of life in Gresham.

It is already costly and time consuming to maintain these parcels, and a burn ban would add to the heavy load we already face and put additional burdens on owners. We live on nearly two acres with fruit trees, flowerbeds, berries, a vegetable garden, ornamentals, prizewinning rose beds, extensive lawns and large landscape trees. It takes two large burn piles a year to eliminate all of the debris we are unable to recycle. Disposing of this debris by other means would be highly impractical.

We have been burning for nearly 20 years with no negative consequences or complaints. Our neighbors have a similar property, and they have been burning on it for more than 40 years. We pride ourselves on having a beautiful and productive property that enhances both our city and neighborhood in multiple ways. These larger properties provide a much-needed balance to the continual overbuilding of high density housing and large apartment complexes that increasingly surround us. They provide open spaces, a wide variety of plants, wildlife areas and habitat, and are often a part of our historical heritage.

Most of these properties will eventually become subdivisions and will be irreplaceably lost. Until that time, we do not need to pass repressive ordinances that hasten that transition. Gresham needs the diversity of lifestyle that these properties provide because they add character and personality to our city. The city government needs to be bold in valuing and saving our rural roots and the benefits they have to offer the city.

We find most of the reasoning given for the burn restrictions lacking in judgment and common sense. One of the reasons given is that we follow the lead of other local cities that have adopted this stance. Our response is that we live in Gresham because it has a strong rural history and it has maintained that history longer than many other communities.

We place a high value on that concept. Another concern stated was the number of complaints regarding burns. About 200 of those were regarding illegal burns with about another 60 investigations of repeat offenders. There were about 60 calls for legal burns. It sounds like the illegal burns are the major problem, not the legal burns. Why then are we being punitive to those acting responsibly instead of addressing the problem of illegal burns? There should instead be significant penalties for those breaking the law, especially the repeat offenders. This would be a much more realistic approach to the problem.

Another complaint is wear and tear on equipment to respond to these calls. This is why we have equipment, and is it necessary to send equipment to legal fire complaints on DEQ burn days? There is a concern about the personnel needed to respond to the complaints. Our response would be that it is their job and always has been. Gresham is rapidly approaching 100,000-plus people. These calls are a statistically tiny percentage, especially considering most are for illegal burns.

A major concern is the twice yearly, 10-day proposed burn time. Are these all DEQ days? Are they consecutive or scattered days? The weather is unpredictable, and if it rains on most of these days, burning is impractical. Will they be days we are off work or will we have to take time off? How far ahead will these days be scheduled? In actuality, 10 days twice a year seems to be a ridiculous concept in the real world.

In essence, this ordinance caters to the complaints of a very tiny minority at the expense of a much larger majority. This concept alone should be of concern to us. It is very repressive to the larger property owner and potentially hastens the loss of these important properties by making them more difficult to maintain. We need to look at the bigger picture of what we want our city to be and represent for the next several years and into the future. Quite often people in our area comment on how much they enjoy our property, and they hope that we keep it as long as possible because it pleases them. We hope that we can continue to sustain this land and the joy it gives so many. Again, don't make our lifestyle more difficult with an ordinance that is unnecessary, premature and punitive. Allow Gresham to sustain its rural characteristics that make it so special. Enable it to continue to be a city that supports and values its rural heritage and properties as long as possible.

Hardship permit available, fairly vague, but good it is available.

Marilyn and Garry Hays are

Gresham residents.

If you go

What: Council vote on a proposed ban on backyard burning.

When: 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 20.

Where: Gresham Council Chambers, Gresham City Hall's public safety and schools building, 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway.

Why: Gresham Fire Marshal Gus Lian presented a proposed ordinance banning backyard burning to city councilors on Tuesday, March 20. Some citizens voiced opposition to the ban, which proposed allowing burning only during 10 spread out days in the fall and spring. However, the proposed ban councilors will vote on this Tuesday calls for allowing backyard fires only during designated burn seasons or with a valid open burn permit. Nurseries also could use agricultural burn permits to burn their debris. Those with larger acreages who can prove a hardship may request an open burn permit. This will be judged on a case-to-case basis.

The ordinance also prohibits burning any man-made material, such as rubber and construction debris, as is prohibited by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Lian proposed the ban on fires in residential areas due to the once-rural city's growth, increasing density and a rising number of citizen complaints. Noxious smoke from fires pose health concerns, ranging from itchy eyes to breathing problems.

Gresham is one of the last cities in the Portland-metro area to allow burning in residential areas.

- Mara Stine