New regulations planned for wood burning in residential areas

Samantha Ye

Burning wood outside is no longer a criminal act, but that’s just going to make it easier to crack down on.

City Council unanimously moved to adopt two new ordinances which will make it easier to enforce smoke impacts of residential wood-burning fires, particularly in regards to outdoor fire pits.

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The main ordinance decriminalizes the act so it becomes a civil violation, which lowers the burden of proof needed for a citation. It also requires all fires to have a 25-foot property line setback with a 10 p.m. curfew.

The system will be complaint-driven, meaning the City will only take action if someone sends a complaint about a smoke disturbance. First-time violators will receive educational materials on public health and low-smoke burning techniques. Additional complaints would bring about an investigation and citations.

“In this enforcement piece, I do think some people will get the impression that we’re going to be driving around looking for a way to write a ticket, but it’s the education piece first,” councilmember Ray Martinez said.

The City will develop more robust enforcement and education plans after the ordinance is officially in place. $13,409 will be appropriated from last year’s general fund reserves to support enforcement for the program.

Since the environmental services department is more well-equipped to address air pollution disturbances, complaints will likely be routed to them, City staff said.

The City plans on conducting extensive educational outreach about smoke pollution and resources for neighborhood conversation during and leading up to the heavy wood-burning season in summer. Councilmember Kristin Stephens said the education piece is particularly impactful to the program.

“I think if people knew that their neighbor had asthma or they knew that somebody was on a breathing machine or something like that, I really think most people would be reasonable about that,” Stephens said.

Councilmember Gerry Horak said while the education part may work, he really likes the enforcement portion, comparing it to the introduction of noise ordinances.

“I’m sure folks (back then) thought you just had to tell everybody what the rules are and they’ll pretty much obey, and we all know that’s not true,” Horak said.

Horak said collecting smoke citation data to make a “heat-map” of where violations occur will help as well. He foresees this ordinance going through a number of adjustments.

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In fact, it was already amended by Council who moved the original midnight curfew to 10 p.m.

Councilmember Ross Cunniff pushed for a 9 p.m. curfew, noting how families without air conditioners or with young children may want to open their windows by then to cool off their rooms.

“I just think that sleep is such a precious commodity, clean air is such a precious commodity that I think it should be an earlier time,” Cunniff said.

The 10 p.m. curfew was eventually agreed upon as a compromise with potential for change as more public input is given.

After a year-long evaluation of the ordinance’s impact, staff may look at other regulatory options and incentivize alternatives to wood-burning fires.

Other Council Topics

Four Colorado State University students with the environmental organization Defend Our Future requested Council take action against the rollbacks of federal mercury regulations by the Trump administration.

Horak said, while the Platte River Power Authority and other established power plants will be unlikely to lower their mercury emissions standards, new plants will be a different concern. As such, the City may ask for and discuss a nonbinding resolution to condemn the rollbacks at the next March 19 meeting.

The voting on the second reading of the e-scooter code amendments was delayed to the March 19 meeting to give more time for consideration of dismount zones and signage.

Cunniff says he was accused of being “anti-fun” by a resident due to his objection to the creation of the City’s first entertainment district at the previous meeting. That districting would allow The Exchange on North College Avenue to establish an open-alcohol space.

Cunniff alone objected to the entertainment district again upon the second hearing.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the requirement was for a 15-foot property line setback. An amendment was put forward to a 25-foot setback after the original staff proposal called for a 15-foot setback. This article has been updated to reflect this information. 

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.