Guest Column: Burning issue needs clarification—part 3

Editor’s note: This is the final part of a three-part guest column submitted by Winnebago County Board Member (District 5) and Rockford Township Highway Department Commissioner Peter MacKay.

The first two parts were published in the July 27-Aug. 2, 2005, issue and Aug. 10-16, 2005, issue, respectively.

Part three is published as an online exclusive due to both space constraints in the print version of The Rock River Times and the timeliness of the issue.

TRRT joins MacKay in urging voters to contact County Board members and County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen to voice their concerns about the new leaf burning guidelines in Winnebago County.

It is now June 9, 2005, and the County Board is set to vote on the last ordinance introduced by the subcommittee on May 26, 2005. The subcommittee report was moved to the beginning of the meeting. Mr. Webster moves approval of the ordinance, which would, with no buffer, but excluding pocketed areas, allow limited burning in all unincorporated areas of Winnebago County (Randy Sturm’s motion in committee). It was seconded by Randy and I, and Mr. Simms was recognized under discussion, and (lo and behold) he introduces a substitute motion (unseen before that night) mandating a 1-mile buffer and elevating the fine for violators from $100 to $500. He called it “a reasonable compromise.”

Simms also was the only “NO” vote in the subcommittee report. I moved, and Randy seconded to lay it over, having not seen it.

Mr. Simms said copies were mailed to all members of the County Board (they were not). It was then said Board members were e-mailed (not I) and that a copy was in my box at the Administration Building. When I picked up my miscellaneous paperwork from my board mailbox, it was not there.

More discussion ensued. Simms then moved to table my layover motion. That passed on a 13-12 roll call. We went back to debate on the entry of the substitute motion, and that passed on a 14-11 roll call.

Simms’ substitute motion then passed on a 13-12 roll call, and that concluded the committee report. And we now have a rapacious and eminently unfair ordinance with police-state elevation of fines and—I almost forgot—you cannot burn leaves in your allowed recreational fires, should you have them. Should you be arrested, your fine will be 500 percent higher than before. An “insider” board member could not understand my anger, saying “What’s the big deal? Your people can still burn brush.” The last time I looked, the problem is leaves.

This is the sum of Winnebago County Burning Regulations:

Unincorporated area

No burning if surrounded by municipalities which ban burning;

No burning if within 1 mile of municipalities which ban burning;

No burning of landscape waste (grass, shrub, leaves, flowers, weeds); and

No burning any materials except brush.

Unincorporated areas

outside the 1-mile halo

You may burn landscape waste on weekends only from April 15 to May 15, and Oct. 15 to Nov. 15;

You may burn brush with standard restrictions (below); and

You may not burn any materials other than landscape waste or brush.

Standard restrictions

No unattended burning—fire extinguishing elements must be at burn site;

No burning of anything generated from another property;

No burning before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m.;

No burning on sunny days when wind exceeds 10 mph;

No burning within 25 feet of any building, structure or property line; and

No burning upon sidewalks or any public right-of-way of any type.


By farms or their agents or employees under strict supervision and in the course of their employment. As used in this section, “farm” shall be defined as in the 1970 Federal Census:

i. An area of less 10 or less contiguous acres having an annual sale of agricultural products not less than $250.00; or

ii. An area of greater than ten contiguous acres having an annual sale of agriculture products of $50.00;

By authorized special permit by the State Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to the provision of Part 237 of Title 35 of the Illinois Administration Code as amended;

Burning for camp fires/picnics or other recreational purposes; and/or

Burning for the purpose of prairie restoration.


A fine of up to $500.00 shall be imposed for any violation to (of) this ordinance: For information, call (815) 987-5476.

Proposed leaf pickup

But look at what Big Brother will do for you, at your expense:

In the above described areas, Winnebago County will provide a pickup service for landscape waste one time a year for single-family dwellings located on public roads.

Residents will be informed annually of the process and time frame to be utilized. A $35.00 fee will be collected in advance from each single-family dwelling that chooses to participate in this onetime only farce. No refunds and no wet leaves. (Dry leaves will be allowed to fall once).

And there you have it. The latest episode of: Big Brother Looking Over You. Know and trust your neighbors.

The County Board and the Chairman must hear from you. Get mailing and phone lists from the Board Office or County Clerk’s Office and use them. Contact Mayor Larry Morrissey, for I believe he was unfairly used in this whole debacle. But then, who wasn’t? It seems to me that when Mr. Christiansen was a candidate, he was in favor of open burning. Now he has regurgitated a Gestapo-line solution to our leaf problems.

Those of us who have remained on your side need your help and support. This letter is to inform you of what happened. To those of you who don’t like burning—we will all continue to do what we see as right, even though we may have smaller or larger degrees of difference on the issue. Ask yourself this—were all affected taxpayers treated equally? I say, no way—and thank you for sharing your time.

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

From the Aug. 24-30, 2005, issue

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