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Stories Added - August 2009
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Trash fire confusion clearing
Polk County Enterprise - August 2009
LIVINGSTON – Polk County Fire Marshal Jay Barbee, on Friday, reversed his interpretation of HB 857 (The Texas Clean Air Act) which he thought would have prevented rural homeowners from burning household waste beginning Sept. 1. He now believes this new legislation will not prevent it and the District Attorney’s office seems to be in agreement. The bill’s intent is “to reduce the current criminal penalties for violations of the outdoor burning rules to a Class C misdemeanor, except where the violation is a repeat offense or involves the burning of a tire, insulation of electrical wire or cable, treated lumber, plastics, nonwood construction or demolition materials, heavy oils, asphaltic materials, potentially explosive materials, furniture, carpet, chemical wastes, or items containing natural or synthetic rubber.”
“Repeat violations on the same property would be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, and burning prohibited items or materials would be a Class A misdemeanor,” according to an excerpt of the bill on the Texas Legislature’s website. Barbee originally believed Polk County would fall under the rules for counties that provide trash service. Rural residents can hire a waste collection service to come to their residence to pick up garbage. Because the county issues a permit for these services, Barbee believed the county provides it by extension. “Polk County, as well as a number of other Texas counties, require residential trash haulers to secure Operating Permits from the County, we authorize, or in other words make available, residential trash pickup,” Barbee said on Wednesday of last week.
The District Attorney’s office has been flooded with phone calls from concerned citizens since this was published Thursday, and on Friday Barbee backed off of his earlier assertion that rural trash burning would be outlawed. Polk County, at one time, provided dumpsters at collection points around the county. These dumpsters were open and free for anyone to dispose of household or other waste. Just after the turn of the century county commissioners decided to do away with that plan in favor of attended collection sites where there is a fee for disposal. “Commissioners before my time opted out of the landfill business,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet said. “Dick Hubert, Bobby Smith, Buddy Purvis and Either Slim Speights or Bob Willis decided in 2001 or 2002 to have the county landfill operated by a contractor. Now rural residents can drop off their trash at a collection site, but there is a fee.” With this new interpretation of the Texas Clean Air Act rural residents will be able to continue burning household waste as they always have, as long as they do not burn any banned items listed above.
This is welcome news to rural residents who had been concerned about the increasing cost for waste disposal. In tough economic times people are looking for ways to stretch a dollar. In a letter to the editor published in the Enterprise on Thursday, Albert Murdock said the stricter enforcement would have significantly increased his disposal costs. “If you save one lighter,” Murdock said. “and you use it to burn garbage, it will cost you about 99 cents to burn your garbage all year long. It costs 33 cents a bag at the landfill which is not much, but 33 cents here and 33 cents there adds up over a year and every little bit helps.” Murdock said it is easy to decide what is appropriate to burn or not. “It’s a question of melting versus burning,” Murdock said. “Plastics go to the landfill, aluminum I sell and anything that is burned accidentally I fish out the next day.” “I understand the concerns people have about stricter rules on burning,” Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet said.
“I have animals and it would be inconvenient if I couldn’t pile up feed sacks to burn. Paper burns quickly without much smoke or fumes, but a smoldering smelly fire of kitchen garbage — nobody likes to have to deal with that.” The Texas Clean Air Act will allow the outdoor burning of vegetative matter as well consisting of trees, brush, grass, leaves, branch trimmings, or other plant growth on the property on which it was generated and by the owner of the property or any other person authorized by the owner. “I’ve been getting a TON of calls about the new amendment to the Clean Air Act, and the assertion that people can no longer burn “household trash,” Assistant District Attorney Michael Matthews said.
“To clear up the confusion (and to take people’s opinons out of it), here is the exact text of the language that was added by HB 857 to the water code/Clean Air Act:” (B) NOTWITHSTANDING SECTION 7.177(A)(5), CONVICTION FOR AN OFFENSE UNDER SECTION 382.018, HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE, IS PUNISHABLE AS: (1) A CLASS C MISDEMEANOR IF THE WASTE IS NOT A SUBSTANCE DESCRIBED BY SUBDIVISION (3); (2) A CLASS B MISDEMEANOR IF THE VIOLATION IS A SECOND OR SUBSEQUENT VIOLATION UNDER SUBDIVISION (1); (3) A CLASS A MISDEMEANOR IF THE VIOLATION INVOLVES THE BURNING OF TIRES, INSULATION ON ELECTRICAL WIRE OR CABLE, TREATED LUMBER, PLASTICS, NONWOOD CONSTRUCTION OR DEMOLITION MATERIALS, HEAVY OILS, ASPHALTIC MATERIALS, POTENTIALLY EXPLOSIVE MATERIALS, FURNITURE, CARPET, CHEMICAL WASTES, OR ITEMS CONTAINING NATURAL OR SYNTHETIC RUBBER.