Kenai council to consider pallet-burning ban

At its meeting on Oct. 4, the Kenai city council will consider prohibiting burning pallets and other wood with metal fasteners on the city’s north and south beaches. Kenai’s administration introduced an ordinance doing so, originally putting it up for the council’s vote at their Wednesday meeting. Council member Tim Navarre successfully moved for the postponement, saying he believes a public information campaign would better address the problem of pallet burning than a law against it.

“Nails, screws, and other metal fasteners left on City beaches can not only be unsightly, but present a hazard to vehicles, pedestrians and animals,” the ordinance text states, adding that city officials get complaints about metal left behind after beach campfires and have to spend city resources to clean it up.

Burning pallets would be punishable by the city’s standard penalty for code violations — a fine of up to $500. Kenai City Attorney Scott Bloom said the flexible penalty “is appropriate in this case, because there’s certainly degrees of violations — whether somebody’s down there burning a hundred pallets and walks away from a huge pile of nails, versus maybe a less egregious offense.”

Kenai code already has penalties for other non-combustable refuse that could be left after a fire — such as cans or bottles tossed in — under its litter laws. Bloom said pallet nails could be also be covered under Kenai’s existing litter laws, but “we thought that, for purposes of notice to the public, it was important to have a specific law on the books.”

Council member Tim Navarre recommended the city do public outreach about the nail problem before outlawing pallet-burning, or to allow for warnings to be given for initial citations.

“I don’t know that in my history of doing it, people bring down something and put in the fire, and it might high school kids or it might be whatever,” Navarre said. “And yet they’re going to say nobody said anything and nobody told us the law got changed.”

Bloom said signage would be posted at the entrances to the north and south beaches, and the council could instruct the police department to issue warnings initially.

Council member Henry Knackstedt had questions about how enforcement would be carried out.

“A group of people are having a fire, and a policeman sees a pallet on the top — who gets the fine?” Knackstedt asked Bloom. “How’s that determined? Or do they all get a fine?”

The question wouldn’t be determined by the ordinance, Bloom said, and added that “our biggest goal is not to issue citations, but to have the authority to say ‘hey you can’t do this, clean it up.’”

“Hopefully we’d get the majority of compliance through signage and public notice,” Bloom said. “…Certainly if you have fifty teenagers standing around a fire, to get one to confess that it’s their pallet could be an issue, but at this point it gives us the authority to tell them to put the fire out and take the material home.”

Navarre said he didn’t think pallet-burning on the beach should be allowed, but that he was “a little concerned that we pass this law and it gives people the right to fine people when they’ve been doing it for years and years.”

“If we have a problem area, we should put a sign that says these type of materials should not be put on a fire because they create a hazard and they leave dangerous materials behind, and educate,” Navarre said. “Just like we do on our dipnet fishery with our educational things about what’s good and what’s not and why we don’t allow people to walk over this way and that, and motorized vehicles and that… I think that’s being a more responsible city than taking the easy way out of just saying ‘we’ll create, you know, a fine and a law that says it’s not allowed.’ I agree, it shouldn’t be allowed, but I think people need to know why, and be educated, and then I think for the most part they’ll act accordingly.”

When Navarre asked for his advice on altering the ordinance, Bloom recommended the postponement, allowing him time to work with Navarre on new ordinance language that would address his concerns. The council approved Navarre’s motion for postponement by unanimous consent.

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