County: To burn or not to burn?

KNOX — An open burn ordinance is being prepared for Starke County, but rest assured, barbecuing is not going to be outlawed. While open burning is already illegal, this new ordinance will be enforced with fines and other penalties.
“It isn't that you can't go out and have a barbecue. That isn't what we're going after,” said Commissioner Dan Bridegroom. He went on to explain the ordinance is to prevent people from burning tires and other harmful materials.
County Attorney Martin Lucas will be preparing the ordinance, which may be designed similar to the state ordinance which is already in effect. In this way, the ordinance can be enforced with the state’s support.
“They have already done all the research. They've got all the lawyers. They've got just about all the tools that we would need. If we adopt one of our own, Marty (Lucas) would be the one across the street in the courthouse defending it with our county's taxpayers' money. If we adopt the state's, the state will defend it and we won't have to at this level,” said Bridegroom.
The ordinance does not ban all types of fires. Currently, recreational fires are not outlawed, and ditch bag burning along with leaf burning in rural areas is allowed as well. Permits will be required in order to burn refuse from clearing land. However, garbage burning will not be permitted.
“Garbage burning is not allowed,” said Lucas. “It's already illegal under the state law.”
There will be a public hearing regarding the ordinance.
“The state law is already there, and we can’t change that,” said Lucas.
Sheriff Oscar Cowen approached the board, requesting approval from the board to move the firing range from the county highway garage to a facility located on private property. The land was originally developed in the 1960s as a firing range, and is located roughly one quarter mile away from the road.
The facility is set up to allow 10 persons at one time to use the range.
“This range is set up not only for pistols but high-power weapons also, so there’s at least 300 yards that you can shoot from and have a safety backstop,” said Cowen.
The range has also been approved by the National Rife Association (NRA).
“I have checked this out with the insurance company and they said that, liability-wise, they would cover us at this range as well as they would at the county highway garage,” continued Cowen. He also said that the high-risk manager feels it would be much better out in the country than at the highway garage. Commissioner Kathy Norem agreed with this, saying, “I think having its own designated area that’s already designed there is just much better.”
The facility may also grab the attention of neighboring police departments.
“We've had outside counties qualify us, and certainly if they need the assistance, Starke County does now have their own firearms instructor, so we probably would assist other counties if they need it,” said Cowen.
“I think this is how we make a good working relationship with everybody around us,” Bridegroom said.
Also at the board meeting, Economic Development Director Charles Weaver gained authorization to close out the Economic Development Administration grant for construction of the Hamlet west infrastructure.
“Every part dealing with EDA (Economic Development Authority) has been completed. The system has been up and running for some period of time. As a part of the process, part of the previously existing Hamlet water tower was also rehabbed,” said Weaver.
Closing out the grant would also allow the state to give the county the remaining grant money, and would close the state portion of the grant as well. In addition to this, closing it out early could prove beneficial in the future.
“When we come in well under budget and we come in early, that gives us better standing to get a third grant,” said Weaver.
Also discussed at the board meeting were the 2011 holidays for Starke County employees. Previously, 14 paid holidays were designated but five have been trimmed away: Martin Luther King day, Presidents’ Day, Primary Election Day, General Election Day, and Columbus day will no longer be paid holidays.
The Koontz Lake Dredging Project also gained the support of the board. The project has been discussed since 1960. No county money would be involved in the project; it is completely state and federally funded.
In the 1930s, Pontius Ditch was dredged, which caused a buildup of sediment in Koontz Lake. Koontz Lake Environmental Enhancement Committee, a non-profit group, aims to dredge the sediment out of Koontz Lake, and hopes to restore its previous beauty.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Bridegroom.
The commissioners also discussed the appointment of a new Starke County Health Officer.
“The Health Board has informed the Commissioners that Dr. (Walter) Fritz is retiring as the Health Officer on Dec. 31 and that they wish to appoint Dr. (Theresa) Alexander as the new Health Officer effective Jan. 1, 2011. By law, the Commissioners must certify the appointment and forward such to the State Department of Health. Having worked with Dr. Alexander in the past, I know that she is a very capable physician with a passion for her patients and community. I am confident she will do a wonderful job as the County Health Officer,” Commissioner Norem said.