Bill allows counties to ban open burning

The Colorado Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill Friday that would make it clear that counties have the authority to ban all forms of outdoor fires.

While several counties already do that, HB1007 makes it clear they can order everyone, including farmers and ranchers, when they can’t burn.

But some Republican senators argued that the measure is nothing more than another state mandate on local government.

“I don’t think we at the state level need to be telling the counties what to do,” said Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Republican rancher from Hot Sulphur Springs.

“They already put out fire bans when it gets dry. Anybody that’s ever been around fires, anybody that’s ever burned their fields off, burned any ditches off, they know that you’re not supposed to set a fire when the wind is 40 miles an hour,” he said.

Baumgardner said the measure attempts to micromanage counties, but Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said the bill doesn’t give the state the authority to ban such fires — only the counties, and then only during times of red flag warnings.

Roberts said several counties already do that, but some are unsure if they actually have the authority to do so and merely wanted clarification on the law.

“There is a discrepancy across the state,” Roberts said. “This is an issue not of the state telling what the counties have to do, but it’s saying that county commissioners have the power to restrict. This is driving it down to the local level.”

Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican melon farmer in Wray, said counties shouldn’t have that authority.

He said farmers often are constrained because of the weather when they can plant, and have little time to burn their irrigation ditches when those conditions are right.

As a result, they need flexibility in when to burn, adding that they are responsible business owners who know when conditions aren’t good to set fires.

“The system that we have now works as well as anything can work,” Brophy said. “It’s not like we’re reckless. We’re not going to risk (farms) by recklessly burning on a high wind day. At the same time, we need to have the flexibility to manage our operations.”

Even though the measure cleared the Colorado House last month on a 36-27 party-line vote, with Democrats supporting it, it had bipartisan support in the Senate. The bill’s sponsor there is Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa.

The measure requires a final Senate vote, which could come as early as Monday, before heading to the governor’s office.


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