August 15, 2001 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The La Grande City Council decided Wednesday night to maintain the status quo on the backyard burning issue for now.

The action came in a meeting that lasted three hours and 47 minutes and included proposals ranging from (1) banning all open burning to (2) imposing a $25 fee for each permit a citizen takes out and (3) to having the fire department inspect each burn pile before the fire is started.

Now burning is permitted two months in the spring and two months in the fall with a permit required. There is no cost for


While trying not to get entangled in parliamentary procedures, the council voted to table an ordinance that would have banned all backyard burning.

Instead, it instructed Fire Chief Bruce Weimer to return to the Sept. 5 meeting with more stringent policies that would help the city better enforce the existing ordinance.

The process were using now is one of responding to complaints by citizens, Weimer told the council. It works, but weve just been warning (those burning illegally), rather than citing most.

New policies can be adopted by passage of a resolution by the council rather than having to be enacted through an ordinance.

The citys Air Quality Commission, which favors a total ban, also recommended imposing a $25 permit fee for each spring and fall burn season if the council decides to continue to allow burning. But some councilors thought that was too high. Councilor John Bozarth said he would rather see heavier fines on the enforcement end rather than a permit fee.

A $5 or $15 fee is not much of a deterrent. A $250 fine (for illegal burning) would put some teeth into the ordnance, Bozarth said.

The decision was 4-3 against imposing the permit fee.

Councilor Dana Wright said he was in favor of charging a reasonable fee but didnt like one proposal that a permit would expire after 14 days. He also favored a referendum by voters in 2002.

Let the public vote, he said. That way, well find out exactly what the people want.

Councilor Steve Clements added, There is a lot of merit to letting the people vote.

Wright said the city staff went too far in some of its recommendations. He agreed with Weimer that inspection of burn piles would place too much of a burden on the fire department.

Mayor Colleen Johnson, who wants to see burning limited to two months a year, and Councilor Doyle Slater wanted to allow time to see how much the public uses a recycling plan put into place this month. People can take yard trimmings to a City Garbage Service recycling site on Highway 30 on Saturdays and Mondays through Nov. 26.

An educational component is an important part of this and that takes time, Johnson said.