Guest Column: Burning issue needs clarification—part 2

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11236949449127.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of’, ‘The leaf-burning debate between city and county residents for the past few years continues to smolder.’);

Part 2

Somewhere in this time frame, the County Board Chairman decided to make the committee larger and did so, even though the subcommittee was still a constituted subcommittee of the Operations Committee, now supposedly headed by the committee Vice Chairman who, after Polly Berg’s death, never called a meeting. Nonetheless, the Board Chairman added board members Dorothy Redd, an unincorporated county resident, and W. Timothy Simms, a resident of the City of Rockford.

The burning issue was getting hotter (no pun intended) and was creating a lot of interest, including from the extreme minority of citizens who wanted to ban burning. The subcommittee chairman, Jim Webster, informed me, and he informed Randy Sturm that if a motion was made to allow open burning in all the county excepting “pocketed” areas (surrounded by a municipality), he (Jim Webster) would second the motion, and that is exactly what happened.

At a subsequent meeting of the subcommittee, Randy Sturm made that exact motion, fulfilling what he had been saying for years. Jim did not second the motion but voted for it after discussion, and the motion passed 4-1 with Mr. Simms voting no. That ordinance was presented to the County Board for a mandatory two-week layover on Thursday, May 26, 2005, to Thursday, June 9, 2005.

I am told that Mr. Christiansen was quite surprised and angry with the committee’s decision. It is worth remembering that, in the earlier stages of what was probably supposed to be a programmed subcommittee run, I was told on excellent authority that Mr. Christiansen, answering a question on the first map, “What about MacKay and Sturm and District Five (05)?” responded simply, “Don’t worry about those people down there.”

Now comes another bizarre chapter, the June 9, 2005, County Board meeting. During the layover period, we heard a lot of things, including that Christiansen, at Mayor Larry Morrissey’s insistence, agreed to a one-mile burning buffer around the city limits of Rockford. Added also were Loves Park and Pecatonica.

I now believe that Mayor Morrissey did not understand the negative ramifications in a one-mile buffer. I don’t like a one-mile buffer at all, but what shocked everyone was the fact that, unless excluded or eliminated by amendment, the one-mile can become a 34-mile buffer when you included the Park District properties (where no one lives) and the worst example, the land mass of the Greater Rockford Airport Authority, where no one resides and in most areas, no one works, or ever appears.

I also believe that Mayor Morrissey, to his infinite credit, can see the monumental inequities visited upon unincorporated area taxpayers. Remember that the City of Rockford actually purchased the annexation of the Greater Rockford Airport, and contractually returned six figures annually to the G.R.A.A. Also, any land, since the annexation, purchased by G.R.A.A. automatically without any other approval within 30 days from the date of purchase, becomes part of the city of Rockford.

The airport-owned land extends to the Kishwaukee River, and where I live is six-tenths of a mile from the connection along the new Kishwaukee Road, the latest runway extension and the Rock River. It is a severe flood plain, and floods big time every year. The land cannot be used for anything, and is not except for the I.L.S. towers at the runway overrun. No one goes there except I.L.S. maintenance people once in a while, and on the east, the farmer who contractually plants what he can at the far east end of the flood plain at Beltline Road. I live in the subdivision on the Rock River just across the Kishwaukee River confluence. The closest resident in the regular limits of the city of Rockford is four miles away. That’s right, four miles. Because we are close to a flood plain owned by the G.R.A.A., we cannot burn. Is that fair? We did not move close to Rockford, they chose to come closer to us with automatic annexations (the gift that keeps taking). Another example: in the old Village of New Milford, (unincorporated) on New Milford School Road, is New Milford School, which is in the city of Rockford, connected only by a long water line and public sewer (the city annexes on forced water lines). The city’s one-mile buffer extends around the school, wiping out just about all old New Milford. Is that fair?

Moreover, at the west end of New Milford School Road is Falcon Road, which is the east boundary of the Greater Rockford Airport and from whence comes another one-mile buffer. But guess what is on the west side of Falcon Road just off the end of New Milford School Road? Guess what must never be exposed to the odor of burning leaves or brush? How about a privately owned Blacktop plant. That’s right! All around the airport and in annexed areas, these examples abound. Rockford annexes areas forcibly, and the citizens lose rights.

Peter MacKay is a County Board member in District 5 and Commissioner of the Rockford Township Highway Department.

From the Aug. 10-16, 2005, issue

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