By Kellen Olshefski


The City of Elkhorn Common Council is reviewing Chapter 5.17 of the City’s ordinance and considering disallowing open burning and seasonal burning.

City Administrator Sam Tapson told the Council Monday night that he would have a draft of the updated ordinance prepared for the Council before his retirement next week for their review.

At the Public Safety Committee meeting on Aug. 26, Tapson said there were several policy issues that needed to be decided before the Committee decided to rewrite the ordinances, the first being whether or not open burning should even be allowed.

Outside of the exceptions allowed under the ordinance, including noncommercial outdoor cooking and commercial-manufactured steel and clay burners, Tapson said it’s nearly impossible to allow open burning because of the requirements and setbacks imposed under the ordinance currently. He also noted open burning permits aren’t really issued anymore.

“If that’s true, other than the campfire, why continue to even have open burning on the books,” Tapson said. “Would it not make sense to just prohibit open burning from the get go and then narrow the framework of what is ‘allowable’ open burning?”

When it comes to seasonal burning, Tapson said he felt that didn’t really need to be allowed, considering the City pays nearly $75,000 annually to provide citizens with leaf pickup service and the drop-off site for yard waste.

“I understand there are neighborhoods that have a definite problem with leaves,” Tapson said. “But, you have mechanisms in place. You have collection curbside; you have the drop-off site. And if some of you can’t get to the drop-off site, there is the option of a special pickup… if need be.”

Alderman Ron Dunwiddie said he is in favor of limiting open burning, allowing for fire pits and the like, and doing away with seasonal leaf burning.

“There’s no need anymore in this time and day,” Dunwiddie said. “I think it causes too many problems and I would be in favor of doing away with leaf burning and limiting the scope of open burning to fire pits.”

Ultimately, the committee agreed to disallow open burning and eliminate seasonal leaf and yard waste burning, allowing for noncommercial outdoor cooking and commercial-manufacture fire pits, with campfires still being regulated under the ordinance.

At Monday’s Council meeting, Dunwiddie said with adequate and well-funded leaf pickup the committee recommended eliminating seasonal burning and continuing to allow fire pits and campfires. He also said an updated draft ordinance would be forwarded to the Legislative and Regulatory Committee for review.

Tapson said he has a finished draft of the updated ordinance and will get it to councilmembers soon.

Dunwiddie also noted Monday that Elkhorn is also one of the few municipalities that still allows open burning.

While Alderman Scott McClory raised concerns about the definitions of terms, such as the difference between a campfire and commercial-manufacture fire pits, and what exactly can be burned, Tapson said the updated ordinance will include clear definitions.

It’s expected that the updated draft ordinance will come before the Legislative and Regulatory Committee at its next meeting.




  1. Scott dzioba says:

    I will be very disappointed in the city and its council members if you decide to ban the open burning. Some of our trees do not drop all of their leaves until after pick up. Having to bag up leaves and take to a drop off creates more unnecessary work for citizens when you can just burn them in a pile in your own yard. Unless you plan on extending the pickup to December this is a bad idea.

  2. Thomas Lee says:

    Many is the time I have gone to the drop off site only to find it closed due to limited hours and season. I recommend an exploration of Delavan’s drop-off policy which is far more user friendly. I also have four large old trees owned by the city on the strip of land between the sidewalk and curb that are always dropping branches of all sizes and seed pods at various times. Sometimes burning is an only option even though I DO NOT like to do it.

    Garbage should never be allowed to be burned, nor building materials. A backyard ornamental fire is a reasonable item as long as it is within some form of containment. Garden refuse burned within the garden space as long as it complies with the existing ordnance setbacks seem reasonable too.

    I think a far more appropriate use of our elected officials time would be to explore the deplorable condition of the city sidewalks, a condition that can cause serious injury especially when walking after dark.

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