ALBANY - Next week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation will no longer allow municipalities to burn brush, and officials of towns in the Adirondacks are angry that the prohibition might cause public safety and environmental problems.
Leaders of Essex and Warren counties and representatives of Adirondack town governments voted Wednesday in protest of the DEC's refusal to renew permits for towns to burn brush at their landfills beginning Oct. 1.
DEC's blanket prohibition of burning brush at all landfills is effective Oct. 14, and several area towns, including Johnsburg, and Chester, have decided to quit accepting it. Other municipalities, including Bolton and Chester, are deciding this week how to respond to the new policy. Lake George and Warrensburg are at least temporarily continuing to accept brush.
The unanimous vote protesting the no-burn policy occurred at the Adirondack Park Agency Local Government Review Board meeting in Johnsburg.
Cathy Moses and Fred Monroe, top elected leaders of Essex and Warren counties respectively, voted for the resolution requesting that DEC continue to allow burning of brush up to 6" in diameter that local residents deposit at landfills.
Recently revised DEC regulations prohibit the municipal burning, but these rules allow towns to issue individual permits to residents of towns with less than 20,000 residents.
Moses said that prohibiting towns from centralized burning at a safe, monitored site while allowing individual permits to be issued boosts the danger of wildfires while likely causing the degradation of air quality. She serves as chair of the Essex County Board of Supervisors.
"This new regulation is insane -- allowing residents to burn but not allowing town employees to burn brush under a controlled situation at landfills just doesn't make sense," she said.
Fred Monroe, Moses' counterpart in Warren County, said that the new regulation was illogical and would place yet another burden on Adirondack towns in processing and disposing of brush residents take to local landfills.
Monday, DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino defended the new rule.
"With a limited number of individuals burning at separate times, there won't be a great quantity of pollutants released at once, and it's not going to be a huge problem, " she said. "Individuals burn on a much smaller scale than what a landfill would do."
She said it was DEC's intent to keep the air clean and limit the amount of carbon dioxide, smoke and particulates released into the air.
"The main reasoning hbehind this policy is to reduce harmful air pollution and avoid harmful wildfires," she said.
But Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty, who also is president of the local fire company, said the new DEC regulation would likely increase wildfires, while creating an unreasonable burden on local fire agencies.
If residents burn the brush themselves on their own land, there will likely be far more calls reporting smoke conditions that local fire companies need to respond to, whether there's a true emergency or not. Plus, he said, more wildfires are likely to occur without the close monitoring that is routine at municipal landfills.
"This new regulation will run our fire companies ragged," he said. "This is ridiculous."
Severino, however said that if anyone is violating their permit, local police agencies and fire officers are empowered and expected to respond - in the absence of now-scarce DEC rangers.
Until two weeks ago, the town of Warrensburg burned brush on Fridays and Saturdays at their landfill.
While DEC is encouraging towns to grind up the brush rather than burn it, a commercial grade chipper that towns would need would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and likely add payroll costs to man the equipment, Moses said.
She also said that more people on the edge of hamlets would likely seek permits and burn brush on their property, bothering neighbors with breathing conditions.
She and Geraghty also said that that the boosted unsupervised burning by individuals might increase burning of household trash, which routinely creates hazardous smoke, including dioxins when plastic is burned.
"The DEC has created themselves a nightmare," Moses said.
However, a statewide ban on burning any trash also goes into effect on Oct. 14, but Moses said that if residents get a permit to burn brush, they are likely to throw trash on the flames, which can release mutagenic, carcinogenic and toxic smoke.
Geraghty said that DEC rangers - cut in number in recent years - wouldn't be able to properly process the permits and monitor the open burning.
Geraghty and Moses also said that a ban on municipal burning might mean more brush deposited on roadsides, which would mean more work and higher expenses for taxpayers who would be footing the bill for cleanup.
"The towns and local taxpayers shouldn't have to deal with this," Moses said.