PORT RICHEY — For the first time in 16 years, Port Richey is poised to relax its ban on burning debris in the city.
On Tuesday evening, the City Council unanimously approved a first reading of an amendment to the city's burn ordinance that will allow some residents to burn debris. A final hearing will be held Sept. 25.
The city established a burn ban in 1996, but after Tropical Storm Debby wreaked havoc on the area earlier this summer, some property owners asked the city for permission to burn their piles of yard debris.
That led Fire Chief Tim Fussell to seek an amendment to the ordinance that would allow property owners who meet certain requirements to burn debris.
"I'm not seeing it happen very often," he said of requests from residents to burn. "I really think we will be seeing it after storms more than anything."
Due to distance requirements for burns, the amendment would only allow a handful of property owners to burn debris, Fussell said. Any such fire must be kept at least 25 feet from any forest, 50 feet from any paved public road, 50 feet from any river or waterway, 25 feet from the burner's home and 150 feet from any other home.
Only a few properties in the city meet those requirements, including a large property off Congress Street, one at River Gulf Road and Washington Street, and one piece of property on Limestone Drive, Fussell told the council.
Those properties have had difficulty with brush removal, as the locations cannot be reached by free debris collection offered to other city residents.
The property owners would still need to obtain a burn permit from the Florida Division of Forestry, and submit to an inspection by the Port Richey Fire Department, which would issue a letter of approval outlining the date and time burning would be allowed.
Fussell said that prior to 1994, there were no restrictions on burning in the city — the city charged residents for burn permits. Fussell himself wrote the burn ban enacted 16 years ago, after deeming the city's permit program a liability.
With the new amendment, the state Forest Service would issue the permit, and the city would not charge for the inspections.
"We're still putting the responsibility on the (state) but we're still giving a little bit of leeway to some of these places that have some large areas of land," Fussell said.
In other news, City Manager Tom O'Neill told the City Council that landscaping has been installed along Pier Road to prevent parking on public right of way.
Residents have long complained of parking overflow from Whiskey River Sports Bar & Grill at 5245 Limestone Drive. The restaurant's owner, Ed Burbach, has told the Times he supports the installation of the landscaping.
"In addition to beautifying the area, it has eliminated the parking in the area next to that parking lot," O'Neill told the council.