Potsdam town officials expected to take steps to require DEC to manage outdoor burns
BY ADAM ATKINSON
North Country This Week
POTSDAM — Town officials expect to change the municipal code to take Potsdam out of the fire permit business and require the state Department of Environmental Conservation to manage certain kinds of outdoor burns.
Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Murray, who proposed the changes, told the board at their March 14 meeting that there were a couple of reasons for the amendments.“The amendments we are making to Chapter 176… fires and outdoor burning, all I’m cleaning from it is the necessity of having fire wardens giving out burning permits,” Murray said. He said if a citizen obtains a $10 permit from the town and then burns something they didn’t realize was illegal, the state DEC is called in and the town is then facing the ire of the DEC for issuing the permit in the first place.
“In order to eliminate that, I don’t want to give out the burning permits. Let them go to the DEC which they are required to anyway to have an outdoor fire which is not under their control. There are a few exceptions that you can have an outdoor fire, a little one in your backyard or something like that,” Murray said.
Exceptions to the code that don’t require a permit include barbecue grills, outdoor cooking devices, maple sugaring arches, cooking and camping fires, smudge pots to prevent frost damage to crops, fires to dispose of flags or religious items and police burning contraband or explosives.
The amendments would not only do away with town issuance of burning permits, but another important change would be implemented as well.
“We’re going to get rid of that portion of it. And then I just want to do away with the fine portion of it, because in our code it says they can fine up to $250. Well if you gave the cost of disposing of one of these buildings, it is a whole lot cheaper to go out and set a match, pay your $250 and walk away,” Murray said.
The proposed changes to the law come after a recent non-permitted razing of a barn built in 1900 at a town residence. The fire was started on New Year’s Eve Day, town officials said, and burned for a few days, generating several complaints from nearby residents. The Department of Environmental Conservation was called in on allegations of particulate matter coming from the burn, but ultimately no charges or fines were leveled.
However, Murray told the board that the barn blaze illustrated part of the issue with the town code. Had municipal officials been called in instead of the DEC and ticketed the resident, paying the town fine would have been still cheaper than paying thousands of dollars to have the barn laid low manually and hauled away.
“So I just want to eliminate that because I just don’t think it makes any sense for us. I don’t think it accomplishes anything,” Murray told the board. “I’m trying to give most of the regulation back to the DEC. It is their job to regulate this.”
Murray said, compared to the town, the DEC can institute higher fines and stiffer enforcement actions on town residents not in compliance with the state’s burning law.
“They can write tickets that are substantial, whereas we can’t,” he said. “That’s the way we are going to stop people from doing this, give them a substantial fine.”
Murray said there are many properties in the town with old buildings in need of demolition, and for the resident, burning them would be the cheapest way to get rid of structures.
“The proper way to do this, if we can catch them, is to give them the biggest fines possible,” the code enforcement officer said.
At the March 14 meeting, the town board introduced a local law authorizing the amendments to Chapter 176: Fires, Outdoor in the town code.
A public hearing on the changes will be held April 11 at 6:40 p.m. at the town hall, 18 Elm St.