Merrill Crowley recently addressed the Watseka City Council about his concerns regarding burning at the yard waste facility.
City officials have agreed to continue to look at the matter.
Crowley told aldermen June 23 that he had addressed these same concerns about this same time last year.
He presented pictures and other information to the council regarding the burning issues at the facility.
“I know a lot of you have been around a campfire, and what usually happens, the wind changes, smoke starts to blow in your face. You find it difficult to breath, and what do you do? You start to choke. Your eyes start watering. Do you stand there and choke, or do you move?
“Well, what if you can’t move? Many people in this town cannot move out of the smoke,” he said.
“The city, according to the ordinance they made back in 2003, state that they are only going to burn by city employees at the city landscape area at times when the wind and other conditions are appropriate for such burning,” he said.
He presented photos that show smoke going toward many residences in the area, including the hospital.
He said with the locate of the yard waste facility it is going to be difficult to find a time when the wind is not coming out of the southwest.
He said campfires are usually seasoned wood, not green wood. “That produces more smoke, abundant odor and various carcinogens,” he said. “Wood smoke is especially harmful to children, the elderly and people with lung and heart disease. Smoke can seep into your house even when your doors and windows are closed, so even if you don’t use a wood stove or fireplace, you still will be breathing the smoke.”
Crowley said the wood and leaves that are at the yard waste facility is green, so it doesn’t burn well, it smolders.
“I know because in the 30 years I’ve been this town, I’ve had weekends where I’ve had to smell this smoke all weekend long in my house,” he said.
He said last year at Halloween the burning was going on while children were out trick or treating.
“I was told last year after the meeting on the 24th that I as to come in here and talk to my alderman,” he said. “I talked to my alderman. He said he would take care of it.”
He said the problem has not stopped.
He also noted that the city allows residents to burn the first weekend of the month, but the yard waste facility burns more often than that, and that when the burning happens, even if it’s on the allowed burn weekend, the yard waste facility burning continues into the weekdays.
He said in 2017, the Watseka population was 4,919.
“According to the breakdowns of diseases in cities, there are 472 with asthma, 172 with emphysema, 157 with chronic bronchitis and a152 with congestive heart failure,” he said.
“Approximately 1,140 citizens, or about 23 percent, are suffering from illnesses that are aggravated from breathing smoke. These numbers do not include pregnant women or children. So basically you’ve got over 25 percent of the people in this town susceptible to burning from the pile,” he said.
“June 5 I was leaving the hospital and smelled smoke,’ he said, noting that he went to investigate the yard waste facility and found burning going on. “You see, it’s not burning very well,” he said of the photo he produced. “You don’t see any flame. That’s green wood. That’s what’s going to happen.”
He showed pictures of June 6 and June 7 with it still burning. “The next picture is the city dump still burning at 6:43 a.m. on June 12, 2020. I was not able to sleep that night because it burned all night long,” he said. “You can see it’s still burning. If you notice all the green around there, they are going to push that up and they are going to burn that, too, while the pile is burning. So it’s just going to make it worse as the day goes on.”
He said again the wind was from the southwest.
“As I said, your city ordinance says you are not to be doing this when wind is in the wrong direction,” he said.
He said there have been discussion about the smoke being an issue, but the practice has never been changed.
Crowley said, “What else can be done? Well, you can ban all burning, but that’s going to cause a bigger problem, right?”
He said the city could buy property on the north side of town and move the facility. He said there is a machine that other communities use an air burner. “I have a picture of it here,” he said. “You can go on the internet and find all the information you need about this machine. It’s portable and can be used anywhere in the city at any time.”
He said the machine burns the wood clean. St. Joseph currently is one community using such a machine, and Crowley said he has contacted them about it’s use. The woman he talked with, he said, told him the machine works well for them. “They actually have found that they can go get a load of wood on the truck, pick it up from the neighborhood, put it in this machine, turn it on, leave, and by the time they get back with the next load, the first load is burned and gone. Then they put the next one in. They say their employees like it. I’m just going by what they say.”
Crowley said he is not sure what the city is going to do. “I just know that I have seen nothing change, and everybody says well we’re going to go by the 2003 ordinance and they are not. They are just not doing it,” he said.
Mayor John Allhands said there was one instance when a contractor went in to the facility and dumped items on the pile, stirring up the pile again.
Allhands said that there is no north property that the city owns where it doesn’t flood, so finding a property on that side of town has been difficult.
Public Works Director Marvin DeLahr said the work crews only light the pile on the first weekend of the month.
He said he follows what he is instructed to do.
“Sometimes it will rain for days, and you go down there and push that up and two days later it lights. It will hold that heat. A lot of times we will bury the ashes to keep that from happening. We do not intentionally light that on any other day, except for what we are supposed to. If it ignites somewhere in between it’s caused by something we have no control over.”
Crowley said that the city is still responsible.
DeLahr said the ordinance says the city can burn at any times, but they were told to change it and just burn on the first weekend of the month. “Before we did it when weather and need dictate,” he said, “not we do it by date.”
Criowley said he understands that there are things that come up and the city has to take care of.
Alderman Darrin Rushbrook asked Crowley about the cost of the machine he suggested. Crowley said he believes St. Joseph bought a used one for about $30,000.
DeLahr said the city can stop burning at the yard waste facility, but the ordinance still allows residents to burn on the first weekend of the month.
Allhands said the city can look at the pricing of the machine and see if it is feasible. Alderman Dennis Cahoe asked DeLahr to look at pricing of the machines mentioned and the aldermen can discuss a the July public works committee meeting.