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West Kittanning mayor considers veto of proposed burning ordinance

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Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, 12:26 a.m.

West Kittanning's mayor said he may veto the borough's proposed burning ordinance.

Council unanimously passed the ordinance on Monday to control backyard fires and burning, but Mayor James Sobiski said the law, which council based on a sample ordinance from the state Fire Commissioner's office, is too vague and restrictive.

“I just don't think that I can approve of this,” Sobiski said. “To me, this is misleading — it's a burning ordinance that doesn't really let you burn — and I don't want to see it lead the borough into legal troubles.”

Even after discussing the ordinance with West Kittanning police Officer Bob Gahagan, Sobiski said he plans to meet with Solicitor Andrew Sacco, who did not attend Monday's meeting, to discuss the ordinance and his ability to veto it.

Councilman Ken Trudgen said the new ordinance is designed to place limits on burning, which were not addressed in the borough's prior law. It sets limits on what can be burned, and when, he said.

“This tightens everything up, and I really think this is a little more neighborly,” Trudgen said.

The ordinance allows residents to maintain fires with only firewood and prohibits burning any type of paper, cardboard and chipboard, chemically-treated woods, trash, tires, plastics and rubber, oil, shingles and other building materials.

It prohibits the use of a burn barrel and requires fires be kept in a container no taller than two feet above the ground, and no larger than four feet in diameter. Recreational burning, such as campfires, can only take place between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“The way it stands, you can't light a fire before 6 p.m.,” Gahagan said. “So, if you're in your backyard, cooking a hot dog or marshmallows over a fire on a Sunday afternoon, before 6 p.m., you're violating the law.”

Anyone violating the ordinance would have to pay fines up to $100.

Councilman Cliff Neal refuted Sobiski, claiming the ordinance was written to be as specific as possible.

Council president Bob Venesky said the ordinance limits the hours so residents aren't plagued by the smell of smoke around the clock, especially during the summer, when their windows may be opened.

“A lot of people up here, especially our older residents, like to hang their clothes out to dry and don't want fires smoking during the day,” Venesky said.

Sobiski said recreational fires should be kept small and shouldn't generate enough smoke to be problematic. The limited time is too restrictive, he added.

Trudgen said council's goal was to get a law on the borough's books, but every ordinance can be amended.

“Ordinances can be amended and, if we see it needs to be changed, we can,” Trudgen said. “We may even take another look at it after it's been in place for a month and see what needs to be changed.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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