At Nome Common Council, burn barrel debate heats up
Positive news came from Superintendent Nome Public Schools Shawn Arnold during last Monday’s regular Nome Common Council meeting. Funds to operate pre-kindergarten education that had been dropped from Governor Walker’s budget have been reinstated. Five districts awarded a total of $1.4 million in the first-round of pre-K grants included NPS, along with schools in Anchorage, Lower Kuskokwim, Matanuska-Susitna and Yukon Koyukuk. State Dept. of Education & Early Development would fund NPS with $273,000 in spending year 2017, Arnold reported to the council. The grant comes with a three-year commitment by the state. NPS would fund two certified teachers from the district for Kawerak Head Start and one for Nome Preschool through FY2019, according to Arnold.
Part of the requirements for the grant demand a plan in place that demonstrates alternative funding for early childhood education in the community.
“We were very fortunate to be included in the pre-K funds before the budget closed,” Arnold said. After three years, the district would be seeking alternative funding, he added. “We have three years to plan—hopefully we won’t waste the time.”
At the same time, there is the good news that even though the city had appropriated money for pre-school teachers when money fell out of the state budget early on, the school check had not been cut yet, according to Tom Moran, city manager.
During the public comment section, Tom Okleasik advocated an ordinance on the agenda for first reading that would, if passed, ban certain types of burning within city limits.
The proposed measure up for first reading bans intentionally burning chemicals or synthetic materials, as example, plastic, rubber, styrofoam and asbestos. The ordinance limits authorized burning to food products, paper, untreated wood and unwaxed cardboard. Barbecue grills can operate on decks of one-family and two-family homes. Smoke shacks and meat smokers can operate as long as they are five feet from a structure or property line. Portable fireplaces and burn barrels must sit 10 feet from a structure or property line.
Open fire burning could occur, according to the proposed ordinance, 20 feet from a structure or property line with a burn permit from the city clerk’s office.
During citizens’ comments on the agenda, Chuck Wheeler noted that the Nome Planning Commission at its meeting had suggested an ordinance that was short and sweet, with no fees, no regulations, except that a burn barrel had to have a screen and the person burning had to cease at the request of an officer of the law, the fire department or a public health official. However, the council‘s ordinance had fines, fees and permits required.
“I think with one complaint in years I don’t think it warrants saying what you can’t do,” Wheeler said.
Violations of certain parts of the ordinance would mean a fine of $50 the first time, $100 the second time and $200 for the third and subsequence offense.
The amendment to an existing ordinance stems from a letter to the Nome Planning Commission saying that Tom Okleasik and his family returned from a picnic to find his house full of smoke from burning trash.
“I want this community to be a better place to live,” Okleasik told the council. When the subject came up at a Nome Planning Commission meeting Aug. 2, he had wanted the focus to be on planning the community’s collective future and public health, Okleasik said, but his cause had been convoluted with fire pits, woodstoves and smoking fish.
“Banning burn barrels improves the air for everyone,” he said.
Okleasik’s neighbor, Scott Kent took exception to Okleasik’s complaint.
He has had a couple of smoke houses since 2009, Kent explained. He has a burn barrel by his fish-cutting table. He burns some Amazon packing boxes and wood scraps from time to time which “keeps the yellow jackets away” from his fish and warms his hands, Kent said.
“I was being characterized as the trailer park hillbilly who was burning trash behind my garage,” he declared.
Kent had a petition going around with signatures concerning the burn ordinance, he said, with already about 40 signatures
He did not want to support any ordinance affecting smoking fish in any form,” Councilman Matt Culley said, and was not in favor of any rules on burning, but he could go for rules defining trash and banning the burning of trash—nothing that relates to PCBs or releasing carbon particulates into the atmosphere.
NPD Chief John Papasodora weighed in on the debate. “You have burning or no burning,” period, he said. Otherwise a law is impossible to enforce. “None of us is qualified to perform a chemical analysis of what is in the burn barrel,” Papasodora said.
Per Robert’s Rules of Order, no additional discussion ensued when the burn ordinance came up for a vote to send it into second reading and final passage at the next council meeting. The measure failed to get the four “yes” votes required for passage: Councilmen Louis Green Sr. and Matt Culley, cast no votes; Councilmen Stan Andersen, Thomas Sparks and Lew Tobin, cast yes votes. The ordinance failed 3-2; Councilman Jerald Brown did not attend on excused absence.
He was willing to continue working with the city on an ordinance, Okleasik said. “This issue is not over.”
What kind of message was the council sending to the community by failing to introduce the ordinance, Okleasik wanted to know. It wasn’t fair to expose his five-year-old son to burning trash smoke, he said.
Andersen had advice for Okleasik. “The easiest way to a solution is to run for city council,” he said.
Green thought maybe the council had voted on the burn issue too quickly. Andersen asked the city administration to check to see what other places were doing with burn ordinances. He had a couple of incidents of trash burning by his house, Andersen said.
“I walked over and kicked over the barrel.”
“I think we can handle things in a more civilized way,” Okleasik said.
“Ordinances that fail do not come back to life,” Culley said. ‘There are no vampire ordinances.” However, he would throw a yes into a rewrite, Culley said.
Moran observed that Kent was circulating a petition. If Mr. Okleasik wanted to circulate a petition, that would be “fighting fire with fire, for what that’s worth,” Moran said.
The council unanimously approved a resolution to allocate an estimated $1.357 million to developing the Thornbush Subdivision for additional laydown space at Port of Nome. The resolution stems from a vote at Nome Port Commission to spend the money remaining from an FY13 state General Obligation Bond of $10 million for port design and construction. The new piece of port property needs fill; the money will pay for dredging in the Snake River and taking the spoils up to lay down at Thornbush. A base layer is already in, according to Joy Baker, port director.
“We are already 92 to 94 percent maxed on laydown spaces,” Baker said. They need additional laydown space to market the port facility, she added.
Culley noted that Port Commissioner Tony Cox had voted no on allocating the funds, wanting the port commission to finish a discussion on prioritizing more immediate needs before allocating the money to Thornbush Subdivision. Baker pointed out that some of the smaller projects did not qualify for the state GO Bond expenditure.
In other business, John K. Handeland, utility manager, reported that Nome Joint Utility System had taken delivery of 2.45 million gallons of diesel fuel at a cost of around $2 per gallon plus fees for wharfage, legal fees, storage and labor to move it into the tank farm. Handeland predicted a drop in the fuel surcharge of a fraction of a cent per kilowatt.
So what was the final cost per gallon, Culley wanted to know. “Just give me a number,” Culley said, so he could compare the cost to what he would have to pay for fuel per gallon, he added.
Handeland gave him the approximate figure of $2.35 percent per gallon.
At a previous council meeting, Sen. Donny Olson consulted the council on getting a zoning change from general use to commercial for the site of the old hospital. Olson has an interest in the hospital along with Jim Gribbens of Bakersfield, Calif., and Susan Nowland of Anchorage. The issue could be expedited, the council told Olson, but he would have to go through the Nome Planning Commission. The public hearing at the Nome Planning Commission was slated for Aug. 30, according to Moran.
Pretty fast, Councilman Lew Tobin observed. He had put in for a five-foot variance for stairs in July, and been told it wouldn’t come up until October, Tobin said. He hadn’t made the deadline for public notice, Moran said.
“The Planning Commission lets politics influence what they do, or I have less influence than Donny,” Tobin said.
Big projects had big pull, according to some council members—the difference between a large investment, say, of maybe $2 million dollars compared to a variance for stairs.
In the case of Olson, there was the potential of economic development and a large amount of money being invested, Andersen said.
Norton Sound G-O owns the old hospital at 5th Avenue and Bering Street—Jim Gribbens and Olson listed in the state corporation database as each owning 36 percent.
And finally, Chuck Wheeler submitted a proposal for an ordinance limiting Front Street package liquor stores to selling nothing smaller than a 750-ml bottle.
That eliminates those who have limited income and chose to drink alcohol on or near Front Street and inside the core township, Wheeler’s proposal said.
Further, package stores would have 90 days to sell the prohibited products and would take effect before the fall barge.
The council asked Moran to check with the city’s attorney to see if the limitation on shooters, half pints and “travelers” in certain areas was legal.