Guess they don’t have anything better to do: Caroline County Board of Supervisors considering seven pages of open burning regulations.

Addendum: When I wrote this post yesterday about the proposed open burning ordinance I was not aware that it was an adaptation of the Air Pollution Control Board’s model ordinance. According to Mike Finchum, Director of Planning and Community Development, the Control Board told county staff that they were not allowed to change certain provisions of the ordinance that would result in more lax restrictions than were in the model ordinance. As I recall, the only provision that was changed from the model ordinance was that citizens should notify Caroline County Communications before they burn anything. As such, the stated purpose and writing of the ordinance was not the responsibility of the Board or county staff as a whole.

Last night (2009-05-12), the Board decided to hold off adopting the ordinance due to concerns that they had, as well as a couple points that I made during the public hearing.

And these go much farther than the regular statewide regulations (PDF).

And consider this: According to the Virginia Department of Forestry, only two other jurisdictions in the state have local burning regulations in place: Roanoke County and Isle of Wight County.

The public hearing for the proposed ordinance is today at 7:30 p.m.

Thoughts (broken done by section):

§ 72-2. Purpose:

The purpose of this article is to protect public health, safety, and welfare by regulating open burning within Caroline County to achieve and maintain, to the greatest extent practicable, a level of air quality that will provide comfort and convenience while promoting economic and social development.

If the county was so concerned about the health and welfare of its citizens when it comes to the air quality in the county, they should be sending letters to the folks at Fort A.P. Hill every day or filing a lawsuit for violation of the Clean Air Act. It seems to me that Fort A.P. Hill likes to burn stuff every other day this year. Do you know how annoying that gets when you go outside and you have to smell the smoke and have to put up with the haze that is created by it?

And the hilarious thing was that Fort A.P. Hill was burning stuff during the day when everyone else in the state couldn’t because of the statewide fire burn. Remember back in the ’90s when they lost control of one of their “control burns” and they had to shut down Route 301 because it was burning across and by the road? Even this year, visibility was close to zero driving up Route 301 towards Port Royal at night due to the smoke.

And the folks on the Board of Supervisors or in the county government think the pressing concern is Jim Bob burning some stuff in his yard?

Portion of § 72-3. Definitions:

“Built-up area” means any area with a substantial portion covered by industrial, commercial or residential buildings.

The term “built-up area” is used to determine whether someone should be approved or denied for a permit to burn and other stuff (more on that later). However, what exactly does the word “substantial” mean in that definition? It doesn’t provide a minimum population distribution, building distribution, or square footage distribution, per square mile. What someone from Wyoming considers “substantial” development is going to be a lot different than what someone from New York City considers “substantial” development.

Also note the following two definitions for later reference:

“Garbage” means readily putrescible discarded materials composed of animal, vegetable or other organic matter.


“Household waste” means any waste material, including garbage, trash and refuse derived from households. For purposes of this regulation, households include single and multiple residences, hotels and motels, bunkhouses, ranger stations, crew quarters, campgrounds, picnic grounds and day-use recreation areas. Household wastes do not include sanitary waste in septic tanks (septage) which is regulated by state agencies.

Onward to a portion of § 72-5. Exemptions:

The following activities are exempted to the extent covered by the State Air Pollution Control Board’s Regulations for the Control and Abatement of Air Pollution:

B. Open burning for camp fires or other fires that are used solely for recreational purposes, for ceremonial occasions, for outdoor noncommercial preparation of food, and for warming of outdoor workers;

So, a regular citizen can still hold a barbecue, but if he hires someone to do the barbecuing for him (say for a party), the person hired would be required to get approval from the Director of Fire and Rescue (no offense to the person currently in that position on an interim basis, Mark Garnett, of course), since it’s being done for a commercial purpose.

And what if a business wants to hold a barbecue as part of an open house or some such? Since that would be for commercial purposes as well, they would also have to get approval from the Director.

It’s also a damn good thing that the barbecue place in Port Royal went out of business otherwise this ordinance could have put them out of business.

Now to § 72-6. Permissible open burning:

B. Open burning is permitted on-site for the destruction of household waste by homeowners or tenants, provided that the following conditions are met:


3. Garbage is not burned; (and)

Remember those definitions that I pointed out above? The term “garbage” (defined as “readily putrescible discarded materials composed of animal, vegetable or other organic matter”) is included in the definition of “household waste”. So, they say you can burn “household waste” (which includes “garbage”) but then say you can’t burn “garbage”. So, insistently, you couldn’t burn any organic waste that is generated by your household under this section.

From the same section:

C. Open burning is permitted on-site for destruction of debris waste [defined as “wastes resulting from land clearing operations. Debris wastes include but are not limited to stumps, wood, brush, leaves, soil and road spoils” in § 72-3] resulting from property maintenance, from the development or modification of roads and highways, parking areas, railroad tracks, pipelines, power and communication lines, buildings or building areas, sanitary landfills, or from any other clearing operations that may be approved by Director, provided the following conditions are met:

1. All reasonable effort shall be made to minimize the amount of material burned, with the number and size of the debris piles approved by Director;

2. The material to be burned shall consist of brush, stumps and similar debris waste and shall not include demolition material;

3. The burning shall be at least 500 feet from any occupied building unless the occupants have given prior permission, other than a building located on the property on which the burning is conducted;

4. The burning shall be conducted at the greatest distance practicable from highways and air fields,

5. The burning shall be attended at all times and conducted to ensure the best possible combustion with a minimum of smoke being produced;

6. The burning shall not be allowed to smolder beyond the minimum period of time necessary for the destruction of the materials; and

7. The burning shall be conducted only when the prevailing winds are away from any city, town or built-up area.

In short, this subsection requires you to request a permit from the Director (see § 72-7), get permission on how much and what you can burn, and figured out which way the “prevailing winds” are so the smoke doesn’t blow towards any “city, town or built-up area” (and remember how vague the term “built-up area” is) before you can simply burn a stump or other “debris waste”.

§ 72-7. Permits.

This lengthy section deals with the process for approving permits by the Director.

Here’s the important part: A “permit may be issued for each occasion of burning or for a specific period of time deemed appropriate by the Director.” What exactly is “a specific period of time deemed appropriate by the Director”? Does that mean the Director can arbitrary cancel or revoke someone’s permit on a whim if he deems it “appropriate”?

And the worst part about that section is if the Director denies you a permit, there’s no appeals process. You can’t go to the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors looking for a permit if the Director refuses to issue one. Again, no offense to Mark Garnett, but that doesn’t cut it for me.

§ 72-8. Penalties for violation:

A. Any violation of this ordinance is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor, in accordance with § 15.2-1429 of the Code of Virginia.

B. Each separate incident may be considered a new violation.

For those unaware, a Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine not more than $2,500. So, have fun when you get arrested for not getting a permit to burn a stump on your property or when you’re barbecuing for commercial purposes.

And who will be responsible for enforcing this act? The Sheriff’s Office who is forcing employees to take week-long unpaid furloughs?

Or the Department of Fire and Rescue? Are they that hard-pressed for work? If so, they need to lay some people off over there…

Some General Thoughts

Am I the only person that thinks that this act would be in direct conflict with the “rural preservation” and “agricultural preservation” areas of the county? After all, those areas were created supposedly to preserve the rural and agricultural nature of portions of the county. But now, we have the government coming in telling property owners if they want to burn a stump, they have to get a permit from the government among other asinine requirements. Something that people have been doing in this county for centuries going down the drain because of those geniuses on the Board of Supervisors.

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