How as a Community Do We Foster Change

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“How do we move toward a sustainable future when even fairly simple change can meet such resistance?”

I live in a neighborhood that now has many houses. This is in it contrast to earlier times when houses sat amidst a number of bare, empty lots. In the early beginnings, neighbors would dump grass clippings and pulled weeds in a mutually used “compost” pile. Over the past two decades that evolved into also having a burn pile. As years progressed so did the quantity of houses utilizing the pile as did the size of the pile. In recent years sometimes the pile could reach before ignition more than 8-10 feet high. Maybe you can imagine how high the flames go when a pile of dry wood this voluminous is ignited. Alder and Spruce woods as well as houses are adjacent to the burn pile. Although burns are usually responsibly attended, the burns have became increasingly dicey.
Adjacent trees, bushes and grasses are frequently much drier than our region formerly experienced. The number of houses contributing to the burn pile has grown exponentially. And as seems so common with “privileges”, use of the burn pile over time has escalated from use to overuse. A “burn pile” that initially contained fairly insignificant shrub trimmings that were a little too woody for the “grass clippings” compost pile began to morph into something else. People began dumping lumber of old fences; rotten house trim, enormous tree branches; even a number of large diameter 8-10 foot drift wood logs that were a discard from a landscape redo. Flames from the pile could soar many, many feet above the pile. The prevailing wind is usually right toward the dry nearby forested area. And when it is beyond burn season, the pile of dry incendiaries just accumulates higher and higher. One year a short term vacation rental idiot dumped their smoldering charcoal briquttes at the edge of the dry pile!

Many members of the Nehalem Bay Fire and Rescue including the fire chief were recently in our neighborhood on an unrelated fire call. Since they were here I asked their opinion if my concerns about the burn pile were legitimate or just that of a “bitchy” old lady. It turned out that the burn permits that had been issued for the pile each year were a misunderstanding. They simply gave permission to the person to whom they were issued to conduct a burn on their own individual home lot and to burn only material that had originated on that same individual lot. The understanding of those that thought the permit allowed this “neighborhood” burn was totally incorrect. Turns out, permit or not, the burn pile as practiced is totally against state law.

Today, my neighbor and president of an adjacent HOA was outside near my home. The members the of HOA are the predominant users of the burn pile insist that the burn pile They act as if the burn pile is a grandfathered entitlement. Ironically the burn pile isn’t even located on their land ( it would block their view to have it on their land).

So back to today, I heard the HOA gentleman talking to some hired workman. The workman commented how they would deposit to the burn pile the rotted wood they had just pulled off an HOA shed.

It is less than a week since I had informed the HOA president’s wife about the news of the burn pile being illegal. She had said she would inform him. When I heard him reply “OK” to the workman I came out to speak to the HOA gentleman to inquire if he knew that the burn pile could not continue. That it turns how it is an illegal practice.

He mentioned he had heard about this; however, the burn pile is very convenient, he insisted. He added that since we had a grass clippings pile we pretty much needed to also have a burn pile. (Stunning logic, don’t you think). I suggested that perhaps we could organize as a neighborhood to create both a means and an ongoing schedule, for example, to haul branches etc to the local recycling station. Even if it were legal, which it isn’t, the days of open burn piles is discouraged these days not just to reduce carbon footprint but also as fire prevention safe practice. I asked if he could consider to use his influence as the HOA president to help our neighborhood transition to a better practice.

His comments were that the burn pile would continue but was maybe going to be slightly relocated. He reiterated that they have a burn permit. I reminded him that the fire chief himself had said that was an illegal use of the permit. The HOA fellow’s comment was: “that is open to debate”. I inquired who was the debate with since according to our local fire chief it was completely against state law and not debatable at all. The HOA president’s comment was, “Well, we like to break state law”.