Council will consider code amendments, enforcement
The Winthrop Town Council isn’t in a hurry to adopt an ordinance that would enable the town to ban outdoor burning including campfires when it would be in the public interest. But the council isn’t dropping the issue either.
At last week’s council meeting, the proposed outdoor burn ban dominated discussion. As before, council members weighed consideration of town residents’ health during smoky times when air quality is bad, versus allowing users of the KOA and Pine Near RV Park campgrounds to have campfires.
As the tourism season is waning, council members decided to continue refining the burn ban. Mayor Sally Ranzau said it’s a “work in progress.”
The topic first came up at a council meeting in September, related to concerns about severe fire conditions and air quality threats, and whether the town could limit burning within its limits. At a previous meeting, the council decided that a proposed ordinance need some fine-tuning and more specificity about conditions under which a burn ban could be declared.
During last week’s meeting, council member Bill McAdow said he met with Okanogan County Fire District 6 Chief Cody Acord to discuss how outdoor burning within the town limits is currently addressed.
McAdow, a volunteer firefighter with District 6, said a review of the town’s existing ordinance suggested that it may be “sufficient the way it is.” According to McAdow, Acord said it would make sense for the town to coordinate any specific burn restrictions with Okanogan County’s burn ban period, usually from late April to mid-October. Twisp links its burn regulations to the county’s, McAdow said.
“That would make it simpler for the public,” McAdow said.
Currently, campgrounds have to file an application to the fire district for an exemption from burning regulations. McAdow said there have been no campfire-related problems at KOA or Pine Near, and the owners of those businesses earlier told the council that they closely monitor conditions and limit campfires when it’s appropriate.
The exemptions can be revoked, McAdow said. He noted that under the current ordinance, which covers all types of illegal burning, violators can be fined between $10 and $500. Penalties should be reconsidered, he said, “because $10 won’t deter anyone.”
While fire danger is a concern of District 6, air quality is monitored by the state Department of Ecology, which issues alerts and warnings when conditions become hazardous because of smoke. Ranzau said smoke is a problem for town residents during air inversions and stagnant conditions, no matter where the smoke is coming from.
Councilmember Ben Nelson said that “my problem with it is that we have to live with it while visitors can have a fire.”
“We have an obligation to take that into consideration for people who live here,” council member William Kilby agreed.
As to how to make determinations about air quality, Ranzau said the town could refer to existing air quality monitors around the valley that measure particulates.
Councilmember Joseph O’Driscoll said that the campgrounds have been following the rules and “I want to make sure they aren’t getting crucified for that”
“The citizens of the town are under different rules, and that to me is a problem,” Nelson responded, adding that he is concerned about “treating visitors better than residents.”
McAdow noted that as tourism-related businesses, the campgrounds bring revenue into the town.
“I don’t think it’s a whole lot to ask that they not have a campfire,” Kilby said. He said he couldn’t image visitors leaving town over a campfire ban. “People are more reasonable than that,” Kilby said.
“I would like to see the town protect its own citizens,” Ranzau said. She said it may be possible for the Winthrop Marshal’s Office to monitor conditions and let the campgrounds know when campfires are not advisable. The fire district has no enforcement capabilities, but the town does.
“As a town in the West, we should have ordinances and penalties for irresponsible burning,” Nelson said.
Ranzau said the staff will continue working on ordinance language to bring back to the council.