‘Side’ burn control?

By on June 26, 2013


GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent

, Staff Writer

Changing times are having an impact on a practice long used by fire companies for training purposes.

Controlled burning of dilapidated and condemned buildings is becoming increasingly more problematic from a regulatory and liability point of view. Increasingly, such exercises may become a thing of the past.

Ephrata Township Supervisors discussed one such proposed burn at their June 4 meeting when the Akron Fire Company sought guidance for a requested burn of a building owned by Dale Hartman. The property, located at 82 Maple Farms Road has been vacant for several decades and has continued to fall into an increasing state of disrepair. Neighbors and police have also noted the unauthorized use of the building by local teens as a place to gather.

Akron Fire Company had agreed to conduct the burn in 2011. However due to circumstances beyond the control of both the property owner and the fire company, that burn never took place. In the time since, new regulations have placed local fire companies in certain jeopardy if proper permits and paperwork are not filed with the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

In a letter to the Hartmans, Akron Fire Chief Timothy Hoffman explained the situation.

"Due to circumstances on both parties’ parts, this burn could not be conducted in the period originally stipulated," stated Hoffman. "In the ensuing year, there have been additional laws and regulations regarding the burning of materials that have been published, especially The Air Pollution Control Act and the Solid Waste Management Act, that have a direct impact on whether or not we can continue with the original agreement."

According to the letter, Akron Fire Company has not closed the door entirely to the possibility of overseeing the burn.

"Akron Volunteer Fire Company is willing to continue to make sure that the burn stays controlled, but in order to do so we need to make sure that we stay in compliance with current regulations and that all applicable permits are issued," stated Hoffman. "Failure to do so could place both the municipality and Akron Volunteer Fire Company at a liable risk."

Hoffman pointed to a similar situation where a local fire company was taken to task by DEP over a controlled burn. Big Run Fire Department in Meadville was required to pay a $5,000 fine after a burn DEP deemed illegal in 2010.

Of concern to DEP is the smoke, odor and debris caused by the fire. There is also concern over anything toxic contained in the structure which could further risk harm to the environment.

In contacting the Hartmans, Hoffman included an Application for Open Burning Exception for Fire Fighting Instruction. Once completed and submitted with other various requested documents, the fire company would again review the request and seek a determination from DEP on the matter.

In the meeting, the property was described as no longer having any windows or doors. Various complaints from neighbors about kids illegally entering and hanging out in the house were also noted.

For their part, the supervisors were open to offering other possible remedies for the run-down property. Of immediate concern was for the supervisors to press the Hartmans to move forward with a solution as quickly as possible.

"My recommendation is that if Akron Fire Company is willing to submit the application, there should be some deadline in place for the cleanup of the property either through the fire company or demolition," stated Township Manager Steve Sawyer. "We want to be fair and reasonable to Mr. Hartman but we need to set a date established. If the DEP permit angle does not get approved, Mr. Hartman needs to understand something needs to be done with the building."

Sawyer agreed with what was suggested in the Hoffman letter, stating that DEP is indeed cracking down on this type of burning out of concerns for air and water safety.

"Even under a controlled burn; DEP is going to want to know if there are any hazardous materials or asbestos shingles on the property."

The matter came to the attention of the supervisors out of Sawyer’s concern for residents looking for the township to do something about such properties.

"Why not just condemn the building," asked Supervisor Tyler Zerbe. "That would then give the owners a set amount of time to deal with it. We need to give them some deadline to either board it up or remove it."

Supervisor John Weber agreed.

"If the building is not boarded up, it then can become a hangout," said Weber. "It should be boarded up and secured immediately. Anyone can go into it. It just is not safe."

Chairman Clark Stauffer supported the idea of setting a deadline for the matter to be dealt with.

"I’d give them several months and then if it looks like he’s going to get the permit to burn, we could then make an extension," noted Stauffer.

Sawyer further explained to the supervisors that because it has been Hartman’s intention to demolish the building, a township code inspector was never assigned to visit the property. But, he added, now that there were a number of property maintenance issues at hand, from overgrown weeds to unauthorized entrance, his recommendation was to require it be secured immediately, either by brining it up to code or demolition.

The supervisors agreed, setting a 30-day timeline for the property to be secured and for the Hartmans to present the township with a plan. They also agreed to give the owners up to 90 days to have the building demolished.

Neither the property owners nor their representatives attended the meeting.

For additional information, visit www.ephratatownship.org. Gary P. Klinger welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail at klingerglobal@gmail.com.

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