The village of Essex Jct. is considering a beefed-up burn ordinance after a string of resident complaints about excessive burning by their neighbors.
Judith Graves, who lives on Athens Drive, attended the May 8 meeting to request the trustees strengthen the village’s burn ordinance. She said she’s complained to the village multiple times, and the fire chief told her the ordinance lacks the teeth to address her concerns, despite smoke entering her house on several windy days.
“I would like to be able to open my windows in the summer,” she said.
Unified manager Evan Teich said the village has received numerous complaints from other residents, too. He said many go directly to the fire department, so he met with Essex Jct. Fire Chief Chris Gaboriault, and they agreed the current ordinance needs a boost.
“When we do have to send a fire truck out to a property, it is going to cost the taxpayers several hundred dollars for that truck to leave the station,” Teich said. He proposed changes that cover two ordinances in the municipal code: regulation of public nuisance and enforcement.
They would increase the maximum civil penalty for violating a village ordinance from $500 to $800 and add language to the open burning section to exclude the burning of leaves along with burning brush, trash and debris. Teich said the village has attempted to inform residents on multiple occasions that yard waste can be brought to the Champlain Solid Waste District for free disposal.
Graves said she was concerned about how the new language would be interpreted, because often when village officials arrive to her neighborhood after a complaint, the initial smoke had dissipated.
Teich noted the section would also be broadened with a sentence that says even materials allowed under the ordinance must not cause a nuisance.
“We want people to enjoy their yards, we want them to enjoy their properties; we are only dealing with the nuisance part,” he said.
He told Graves the village will attempt to deal with “what we see and what is going on” by the time it gets to her neighborhood. He suggested starting with Essex Police because they can usually respond to a situation like that quicker than a fire truck.
“Our police and fire know what’s going on, and we’ll be able to deal with people who are violating the ordinance,” he said. “One hundred percent, I don’t know. But better than we were able to do before.”
If someone is caught violating the proposed ordinance, it could be costly. The first offense would result in a warning, with each subsequent offense during a calendar year increasing by $250 up to $750. If that wasn’t enough to address the issue, the last resort would be legal action, Teich said, but ideally, the ordinance will encourage compliance.
“I don’t actually want to fine anybody,” he said. “I’d rather get compliance, and I’d rather people be a good neighbor, be considerate of what they’re doing. But failing that, we would have to fine people to get their attention.”