GONZALES — Ascension Parish officials said they are planning a new push to more tightly control where landowners may burn materials outdoors.
Establishing a new parish Adjudication Court in May and hiring code enforcement officers have combined to offer an opportunity to create such an ordinance because it can be more easily enforced now than in the past, officials said.
The court, which meets in the Parish Council chambers, has handled litter and junk violation cases so far.
The possibility of enacting an ordinance to control outdoor burning has been discussed for several years, officials said, but has never been carried out for a variety of reasons.
Among the reasons are lingering questions over enforcement and how residents would get rid of debris in areas where it could no longer be burned.
Outdoor burning is one of many issues in Ascension that shows how population growth can sometimes set the expectations of rural and suburban residents against each other and create demands for services that have to be paid for.
Tinsley Sammons, 75, of Prairieville, told a Parish Council committee last week that burning has become a more serious problem as the parish has grown and the composition of modern products has changed.
Sammons, who lives in Chase Court off La. 621, told the Strategic Planning Committee on Monday that nearby burning recently kept him in his house for the better part of week. He asserted toxic materials were going up in smoke nearby.
“I might be old and might be half-blind and deaf, but I can smell,” he said.
Sammons said he would support a ban on outdoor burning.
In a later interview last week, Councilman Kent Schexnaydre, committee chairman, said he would like the council to prohibit outdoor burning in subdivisions with smaller lots but still allow it in less populated rural areas.
State law already generally prohibits the burning of many materials, such as tires, but Ascension does not directly prohibit private property owners’ ability to burn things that state law does not block, such as yard debris.
“Our sole reason last night was to bring these issues out, show them the pros and cons and problems and go back and let’s start trying to figure out solutions,” Schexnaydre said in the interview.
One of those problems is that in unincorporated Ascension, no trash provider offers debris removal.
Early in the current term, parish officials tried to come up with a way to provide extra services, such as recycling, but could never strike a deal.
In a recent interview, Ken Firmin, owner of Acadian Waste Disposal Service, one of three major trash providers in Ascension, said one problem is how to bill customers for added services such as recycling and debris removal.
He noted East Baton Rouge Parish charges a fee to all customers for debris removal and collects for that service through their water bills. He said charging individual customers by tonnage would be expensive and many would not use that service.
Firmin said he has suggested to parish officials a property tax or a fee to spread across the parish the cost of the added equipment needed for those services.
“It would be a cost that would have to be borne by residents some kind of way, either through a tax or a fee,” Firmin said.
Schexnaydre has said he is anticipating a complaint-driven system, but that also raises an issue.
The parish’s six code enforcement officers work during daytime hours Monday to Friday, said Lester Kenyon, parish government spokesman.
Councilman Benny Johnson noted during the meeting last week that fire departments do not want to get involved in code enforcement.
He suggested the parish needs to clarify the issue of making complaints and who responds. Schexnaydre said he wants to talk with the Sheriff’s Office.
“All of those things have to be solved before you can put any type of burn ban in place,” he said.
Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tony Bacala said it is too soon to comment on the issue of outdoor burning without more information available.