'A period of adjustment for many': Lake County's leaf burning ban beginning
Starting today, permanent restrictions on burning leaves and other landscape waste take effect in unincorporated Lake County.
The new rules replace a temporary ban enacted more than two years ago at the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, to ease the potential respiratory impacts from exposure to smoke.
Under the rules, burning leaves and grass is prohibited at all times. Burning of woody waste, like sticks and tree branches, is permitted during daylight hours from Nov. 1 to March 31. Recreational wood fires no larger than 3 by 3 feet are allowed all year.
Lake County had been the only county in the Chicago area without restrictions on burning yard waste in unincorporated areas, county officials said.
New waste hauling services for unincorporated areas, approved in tandem with the burning regulations, also take effect today.
Because they have their own waste hauling agreements, Avon, Ela, Fremont, Lake Villa, Shields and Warren townships are exempt from the county agreements with Lakeshore Recycling Services LLC for the southern part of the county and with Groot Recycling & Waste Services Inc. for the northern half. Homeowner associations that contract separately also are exempt.
"We recognize that this is a period of adjustment for many, and knowing that, we spent the better part of the winter and spring getting residents ready for the transition," said Eric Waggoner, Lake County's director of planning, building and development.
He added that "significant staff resources" will continue to be devoted to helping residents navigate the new services and rules.
Waggoner said the companion topics of landscape waste burning regulations and waste collection franchising "have been the subject of more public discussion and debate than almost any other Lake County topic in recent memory."
Before county board approval, seven public meetings, including a virtual town hall session, were conducted. More than four hours of public comment was heard, and 2,115 survey responses were received, Waggoner said.
Since the vote, postcards were mailed to 16,800 resident on the waste hauling topic, both companies have sent mailers, and waste hauling and open burning hotlines have received more than 225 calls, he said.
While some residents weren't happy with the changes, "a great number of residents are thrilled" about the new services, Waggoner said.
From a single website early on, the web presence was expanded to include specific sites for open burning restrictions and the new waste hauling service. Both have continued to be updated with information and contacts.
The county board on Jan. 11 enacted the permanent rules by a 13-7 vote, with all but one Democrat supporting the measure and all the Republicans opposing it.
Supporters said the rules regarding burning woody materials was a compromise and that in most cases, residents will see a decrease in their waste hauling rate.
Some opponents said public opinion was being ignored and cited the potential cost and difficulty of removing landscape waste and leaves from large lots or heavily wooded neighborhoods.
Lake Villa Township, for example, considered leaf vacuuming, but the estimated cost was $250,000 to start and $90,000 per year after, mainly to have the leaves hauled and dumped.
"The leaf collection idea has been met with resistance both from a cost perspective and being impractical for homeowners to collect their leaves and bring them to the street for collection," township Supervisor Dan Venturi said in an April letter to County Board Chair Sandy Hart.
Venturi suggested modifications to burn leaves at the same time as woody landscape, with similar restrictions for prescribed burns allowed for local governments.
"I'm looking for a reasonable compromise," he said.