Drought threatens traditional burning of ‘M’County says no and issues burn ban; Mitchell City Council says yes.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
The burning of the “M,” a homecoming tradition for Mitchell High School, could be the latest victim of the drought. Or, maybe it will go on as planned. Two very different takes on the situation played out Tuesday, first in the morning during the Davison County Commission meeting at the courthouse in Mitchell, and then Tuesday evening during the City Council meeting at City Hall.
The county commissioners voted 5-0 to strictly adhere to the county’s ban against open burning and to allow no exceptions for burn permits for special events. The commissioners authorized the county-wide ban on July 17, and it will remain in place until conditions improve and commissioners repeal the ban.
The commissioners seemed to think their no-exceptions stance will preclude the annual burning of a giant “M” after homecoming coronation on Sept. 24, assuming the ban is still in place at that time.
“We’re already catching flak for the burn ban from rural landowners who would like to do controlled burns,” said Commissioner Jerry Fischer, a retired firefighter. “Allowing exceptions would be opening a can of worms.”
Tuesday evening, during a meeting of the City Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee, the committee approved a fireworks permit for a display to be held after the homecoming football game Sept. 28.
The fireworks discussion included talk about the burning of the “M,” and although that isn’t part of the fireworks permit, most council members said they’re OK with both.
Assistant Police Chief Leon Baier told council members he’d communicated with Davison County State’s Attorney Pat Smith, who had not researched the issue but expressed an opinion that the city’s own burn ordinance takes precedence over the county’s burn ban. If that’s true — and nobody claimed to know for sure — the city would have discretion over the fireworks and the burning of the “M.”
Additionally, Assistant Fire Chief Paul Morris told the committee his department would have firefighters and equipment available for the burning of the “M” and the fireworks, and could quickly contain any fires. He also said he advises the county commissioners when to impose and lift the county ban.
So, members of the City Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee voted 4-1 to approve the fireworks permit. Councilman Mel Olson cast the only “no” vote. Among his concerns was the city’s potential liability.
“What if we allow this and it gets out of hand and somebody’s house burns down?” he said.
Seemingly lost in the discussion, at least by the end of it, was some language on the bottom of the city’s own fireworks permit that explicitly forbids fireworks whenever a county burn ban is in effect: “… If there is a burn ban in effect for Davison County on the date of the fireworks display, then the applicant would not be allowed to have the fireworks display.”
The committee’s motion to approve the fireworks permit made no mention of removing that language from the permit.
Further complicating matters is the county commissioners’ anticipation that they, too, will consider the fireworks permit at their Sept. 11 meeting.
The county’s ban is on open burning, defined as any outdoor fire, including “campfires, warning fires, charcoal grill fires, and the prescribed burning of fence rows, wild lands, trash and debris.”
The resolution also bans all fireworks, except for fire department-approved public or private displays that have made provisions for fire suppression.
Excluded from the ban are “fires within liquid-fueled or gas-fueled stoves, fireplaces within all buildings, charcoal grill fires at private residences, and permanent fire pits or fire grates located on supervised developed picnic grounds and campgrounds.”
The “charcoal grill fires” language in the list of prohibitions refers to grilling in unauthorized areas. As the exclusion list says, charcoal grill fires at homes and in fixed grills at parks are allowed.
In other business, commissioners:
• Approved unanimously and with little comment, after rejecting the same request at the Aug. 28 meeting, Treasurer Brenda Veldheer’s request to advertise for a full-time deputy auditor III to replace an employee who has left to take another job. Claggett said he and Veldheer discussed the issue during the week and he recommended approval.
• Approved, on second reading, the 2013 provisional budget following a brief public hearing. No public input was given, and the final budget approval will be considered Sept. 11.
• Asked Jail Administrator Don Radel to explain $6,000 for repair to electronic security doors at the jail. The amount of the May 22 invoice was higher than the $1,000 limit for expenditures without commission approval. Radel said he considered the expense a maintenance item in the same vein as a furnace repair or a broken water heater, and since the jail could not be operated without the repairs, he did not think the expenditures required prior approval. The costs for the repairs were due to expensive specialized parts and labor to install the proprietary parts.
• Were unable to open bids to re-tile showers at the county jail because Maintenance Supervisor Mark Ruml said he received no bids for the job. The commissioners directed Ruml to advertise bid requests to a broader audience. The commissioners set 9:30 a.m. Oct. 16 as the date for the next bid opening.
• Heard a report from Ruml, who said that GeoTek Engineering of Sioux Falls will do a follow-up test Thursday for PCBs at the Central Electric building site that the county is purchasing on North Main Street in Mitchell.
• Noted there will be no county commission meeting on Sept. 18 or Sept. 25. The commissioners will attend a meeting in Sioux Falls on Sept. 18. On Sept. 25, due to a vacation, a medical appointment and an out-of-town meeting, there won’t be enough commissioners for a quorum.
• Gave Register of Deeds Deb Young authority to purchase archival products for $4,821 from U.S. Records Midwest. The products will be used to preserve vintage county real estate index records.
• Held about a half-hour closed executive session on personnel with Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg and Deputy State’s Attorney Jim Taylor. No official action was taken following the meeting.
• Postponed until next week consideration to return a $100 fee to Larice Hamilton for a conditional use permit to bury construction materials on a 1-acre site he owns. The commissioners went against a planning commission recommendation to approve the CUP, because the Hamilton site would have accepted outside materials for burial, which would have made it a privately operated landfill. Commissioner Jerry Fischer said Hamilton is complaining that he was given inaccurate information and never would have applied for the permit if he had known he was ineligible.
• Heard a request during citizens’ input from Clark Edwards to repair the intersection of 404th Avenue and 244th Street, which he said is being reduced to barely drivable washboards by heavy truck traffic. “Putting down some asphalt would make a lot of people happy,” Edwards said.
Lack of moisture has made road maintenance difficult at the intersection. Weinberg said adding asphalt to the intersection would be a waste of money since the base is insufficient to withstand the pounding of heavy grain trucks.
Mitchell High School students watch the burning of the “M” in this September 2011 file photo. The event might not happen this year because of a countywide burn ban.