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Tennessee county mulls anti-open burning order
Tennessee Correspondent

LOUDON, Tenn. — A recent effort to enact an anti-open burning ordinance in a rural eastern Tennessee county posed problems for its farmers.

Though the Loudon County commission was ultimately successful in passing the ordinance at its May 8 meeting, its language had to undergo surgery a few times. Commissioner Don Miller, who spearheaded the project, explained he started out with something “very simple” that quickly grew.

“It used to be a rural area,” he said of the county, which borders Knox County to the west. “If you burned a little (wood or trash), it didn’t bother your neighbor.”

Now, the opposite is common sentiment in the United States. As increasing population has forced city suburbs to creep into farmland – such is the case of Knoxville, whose suburbs push into adjacent counties – issues that may not have been a problem 60 years ago are current everyday considerations.

In Loudon County, the complaint was about developers, but the solution could have affected farmers as well. Residents living near development at Rarity Pointe – an expensive neighborhood – complained the contractor was burning cut trees and brush to such an extent as to scum the lake and clog the air with oily soot. This kind of burning is not new to the area.

Loudon and surrounding counties are in nonattainment for EPA air standards, meaning there is too much pollution. This is generally blamed on several factories in and around the county seat of Loudon, but increasing traffic through the area – especially diesel trucks – and widespread open burning are being held accountable.

The challenge of the ordinance was to pare smoke and soot from big construction projects while preserving the right of residents and farmers to burn a relatively small amount of brush on their own land.

“We weren’t ever against better air quality,” said James Pope, president of the Loudon County Farm Bureau and a beef and sheep farmer living a few miles outside Loudon off I-75. “We just didn’t want it to get where we couldn’t clean out a fencerow or clear some brush.”

When Farm Bureau first learned of the proposed ordinance earlier this year, Pope said its leadership asked to be included in the discussion. At that point, Miller was using language from Knox County’s more detailed ordinance, which included provisions already outlined in Tennessee Depart-ment of Environ-ment and Conservation (TDEC) Rules. It included language excepting farmers, but still had problems for the Farm Bureau.

One suggestion excluded brushwood larger than three inches in diameter. Another provision restricted burning to the hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Farm Bureau pointed out many farmers and residents work full-time jobs at least five days a week away from their land – when could they burn?

Miller and fellow Commissioner Nancy Marcus worked with the Bureau to cut the proposal from five to two pages. “We didn’t try to duplicate the state of Tennessee’s regulations,” Miller said, adding it is best to let the state enforce those since it has “bigger teeth” than county government.

What the ordinance does is make illegal any burning “generated by clearing of vacant lots or vacant land for purposes of land development.” Open burning for “agricultural purposes” and on land containing an established private residence are allowed.

“The farm and rural community was spelled out in better detail, and left no question about who’s being affected,” Pope explained. “We were pretty well satisfied with it.”

“Where folks have to be cautious is they can’t burn paper waste, debris from other places or tires” to accelerate brush-burning, said Rhedona Rose, public affairs director with Tennessee Farm Bureau (TFB). She consulted with the Loudon County Farm Bureau to aid negotiations with the commission.

According to Rose, Shelby County (Memphis) also has an anti-open burning ordinance that came to TFB’s attention for similar negotiation when a peach orchard owner complained it would not allow the controlled burn of diseased trees. She believes other counties around Knox and Loudon may soon adopt similar ordinances to help comply with EPA regulations; in fact, Miller said Blount County commission is working on one now.

“It’s going to happen as other counties go through the same thing,” he said of coping with expanding development. “It’s going to be a little painful for a while.”

This farm news was published in the June 7, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.