June 04, 2023

Colfax workshop addresses open burning concerns

Health issues and complaints may drive ban

A discussion at the Colfax City Council’s Jan. 5 workshop brought uncertainty to the future of the town’s open burning ordinance.

The city’s open burning ordinance allows the burning of yard waste, such as leaves, grass and branches, on a resident’s property from dawn until dusk. Due to a recent uptick in complaints, that may soon come to an end.

During the meeting, Colfax City Administrator Wade Wagoner presented several complaints from residents regarding the smoke produced during open burns.

“We’ve been hearing complaints from residents. The smell and smoke from those burning leaves is really causing some problems with older residents and residents who have breathing problems,” Wagoner said.

Several council members agreed Wagoner, saying the complaints about people burning have gone way up in the past year. Council member Curtis Small said his wife suffers migraines when she smells the smoke emanating from open burns.

Other council members said the main contributors to the smoke are five or six residents who burn yard waste very regularly.

“Would it be better for us to maybe just talk to the people who are the worst offenders and ask them to tone it down?” Council member Brad Magg asked.

Magg suggested even if the council bans open burning, it won’t matter unless the city enforces it.

“We know that issues like this can really divide communities, so we have to stay on top of this and listen to people,” Magg said.

Council member Karla Jones said while Colfax does have a place where people can drop off yard waste, not everybody has the means to transport their waste on their own.

“We have to remember that burning can be the only option for some people,” Jones said.

Wagoner also reminded everyone the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has recently begun pushing cities to limit the open burning of leaves due to the harmful chemicals that can be released when leaves are burned.

According to the Iowa DNR’s website, smoke from burning leaves, grass, brush and most plants contain high concentrations of pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, soot, toxic chemicals and reactive gases which can contribute to smog formation. Smoke can also be “an immediate health concern” for some people.

For the past several years the Iowa DNR has been pushing composting as an greener alternative to burning.

The issue then moved back to the enforcement of a possible ban.

Colfax Mayor David Mast suggested the use of fines by the police and fire department to discourage burning after a new ordinance is passed.

“I know that the fire department can ticket people up to $250 when they are called to illegal fires, so I think that might be a good deterrent,” Mast said.

No decisions were made at the meeting. Council will likely put the issue of an open burn ban to a vote at a subsequent meeting.

Contact Abby Knipfel at 641-792-4687 ext. 6531 or aknipfel@shawmedia.com

Abby Knipfel

Abby "Adler" Knipfel

Journalist at Newton Daily News. Currently covering Jasper County and writing passionate opinion pieces. They/Them