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What’s burning?

City of Tiffin hopes to stamp out illegal dumping at municpal yard waste burn site

TIFFIN– The City of Tiffin wants to continue providing a convenience to residents, but frequent abuses of the service warranted changes.
The Tiffin City Council approved revisions to an ordinance defining how residents use the city-provided “burn pile,” an area where yard waste can be dumped for safe burning later.
The city’s public works staff have manned and monitored the site, and in addition to yard waste, people were dumping trash, tree stumps and non-combustible items. Public Works Director Brett Mehmen brought it to the council’s attention months ago and agreed that measures to increase compliance were needed.
“People were bringing down things like davenports, they would rip their decks off their houses and bring them down full of nails– it was blowing the tires on our skid loader and our tractor– and contractors were bringing big logs and tree stumps, things that wouldn’t even burn,” Mehmen said.
The site is supposed to be for yard waste only; things like grass clippings, leaves, garden residue and branches no larger than two inches in diameter. It’s an amenity for people who can’t burn yard waste in their yards. Open burning of yard waste is only allowed during a limited period of time in the spring and fall.
“I think it’s great that people can have a place to burn at least grass clippings and leaves, rather than have to do it in their yard,” said Mehmen. “It’s convenient.”
So instead of eliminating the convenience for everyone, the city decided to get tough on those who violate the system. Public works staff installed surveillance cameras that will capture footage of anyone leaving inappropriate items there, and the revised ordinance provides for increased penalties. In addition to a civil penalty, anyone who hauls in items other than yard waste will be liable for the costs of removal and disposal of those items.
The city intends to exercise its right to fine violators the maximum allowed by the city’s ordinance and the State Code of Iowa– up to $750 for the first offense, and up to $1,000 for the second offense of illegal dumping.
The steeper fines are sometimes necessary, said City Administrator Doug Boldt, because minimal fines don’t always deter bad acts.
“I’ve experienced people who say, ‘Fifty bucks to dump this? No problem, fine me,’” Boldt said.
In addition to approving the revisions in the council’s first reading of the ordinance amendments, it was also suggested that the site be called the “yard waste site,” instead of burn pile, hoping it would help residents better understand its purpose.
The site is located off Brown Street: from south Stephan Street, go right on Second Street, left on Brown Street, cross the railroad tracks and follow the signs past the municipal wastewater plant.
The council is expected to hold its second reading of the amended ordinance at its July 22 meeting.