Lake County committee supports leaf-burning restrictions

  • Many residents in unincorporated areas of Lake County dispose of fallen leaves by burning them. Lake County officials are debating a ban or restrictions on the practice.

    Many residents in unincorporated areas of Lake County dispose of fallen leaves by burning them. Lake County officials are debating a ban or restrictions on the practice. Daily Herald File Photo, 2013

 
 
Updated 12/4/2019 7:03 PM

Despite likely opposition from residents in some rural districts, members of Lake County Board's energy and environment committee on Wednesday united to support restricting leaf burning in unincorporated areas.

The health risks and negative environmental impacts of the age-old practice are too significant to let it continue unabated, officials said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We can't ignore the science," said committee member Paul Frank, a Highland Park Democrat.

No regulations were approved during Wednesday's well-attended discussion at the county's central permit facility in Libertyville. In fact, the committee hasn't even settled on what restrictions it will recommend to the full board.

Hannah Mulroy, the county's interim sustainability manager, proposed a few options to the committee.

One would be to follow the policy in place in neighboring McHenry County. It would, in part, establish times and rules for leaf burning within 100 feet of habitable structures, 50 feet from structures that aren't inhabitable or 50 feet from school property lines.

Another option would be less restrictive. It would establish times and rules for leaf burning within 50 feet of habitable structures, 25 feet from structures that aren't inhabitable or 50 feet from school property lines. That option would affect fewer homes than the first plan, Mulroy said.

A total ban on leaf burning would be a third option.

Currently, most people who live in unincorporated areas can burn leaves and other yard waste on their properties. Some limitations were enacted in 2011 for designated areas near Lincolnshire's Stevenson High School.

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Nearly every municipality in Lake County bans or limits burning leaves. Some restrict the times, days or months leaves can be burned.

Leaf-burning critics say the smoke contains tiny particles that pollute the air, get into our lungs and can cause coughing, wheezing and other breathing issues.

Proponents of leaf burning have said other options, such as bagging leaves or hiring a landscaping service to haul them away, are too time-consuming or costly.

But mulching and composting also are environmentally friendly options to be considered, said Larry Mackey, director of environmental health for the Lake County Health Department.

Realizing that many people will have to come up with a new leaf removal plan if burning is restricted, Mulroy reviewed possible commercial waste-hauling options Wednesday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The county board could hire a company to handle garbage, recycling and yard waste removal for all unincorporated areas that aren't covered by township garbage services, she said. Or, the board could hire a company just to remove yard waste.

How much of that cost would be passed onto residents wasn't decided Wednesday. From her seat in the audience, county board member Judy Martini suggested the board "pony up and help pay for it."

"It would be an unfunded mandate and a hardship for a lot of people," said Martini, a Fox Lake Republican.

Other options include amending a county ordinance to require garbage haulers to offer yard waste removal or work with township leaders to put referendums about yard waste removal on future ballots.

County board member Linda Pedersen, an Antioch Republican, said a leaf-burning ban will be "an absolutely huge problem" in her largely rural district. Although she acknowledged the health risks associated with burning leaves, Pedersen insisted "you've got to give them the opportunity."

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