Residents living near Murphys Grade Road in Angels Camp were successful in ending debris burning on wetland fields near Bret Harte Union High School last week. The district had been burning vegetative material cleared out from an adjacent waterway. It was unable to transport the material for disposal because it was on a protected wetland where vehicles are not allowed.
Part-time county resident Katherine Decker, who has owned a home near the site since 1986, voiced her concern that smoke created by the burning has the potential to create public health issues for sensitive groups and that debris runoff is draining into and polluting a nearby waterway that feeds into Angels Creek.
“Nobody wants to take responsibility for this,” said Decker, who said she has been given the run around when trying to figure out which authority to contact with her concerns.
On Jan. 25, Bret Harte Union High School District mailed notices to residences it deemed were most affected by the burning, inviting them to a meeting.
“We will be discussing maintaining the ditch which is on private property and the ability to burn due to the fact we cannot place vehicles on the wetlands,” read the letter signed by Superintendent Michael Chimente.
Becker and other residents took affront to the term “ditch,” insisting that the waterway is a tributary being adversely affected by the district’s practices and that the former term mitigates the actual impact the burning is having on the waterway. Burn opponents sent out letters of their own encouraging neighbors to attend the meeting to voice their concerns.
“Burning the Designated Wetlands creates a real danger to our homes by creating a very real risk of fire. It doesn’t take much, a gust of wind, a stray spark, to turn a controlled burn into a blazing inferno that could easily destroy our entire neighborhood, and even threaten our lives,” read one letter.
The letters may have worked as the meeting, held last Wednesday night, resulted in success for neighborhood residents. The district agreed to cease burning as long as residents agreed to keep the waterway clear of excessive debris.
“It looks like a garbage dump out there now, but they said they’ll stop,” said Decker. “It looks like they want to be good neighbors to us, as we do to them.”
Contact Kristine Williams at email@example.com.