City of Bloomfield fined by DNR for illegal burn pile

By: - March 25, 2022 2:56 pm

(Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The city of Bloomfield illegally burned tree debris too close to nearby houses — spurring complaints from the neighbors — despite several warnings that it wasn’t allowed, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The city established a new site early last year to deposit the debris near Lake Fisher, just west of the southern Iowa town of about 2,700 people. In March 2021, someone reported to the DNR that the wood pile was on fire and the smoke from it was wafting to his property.

An investigation found that the debris that had been burned was mixed with trash — insulation and plastic garbages bags, among other items. Further, the burn site was unfenced, unsupervised and located within a required separation distance of a quarter mile from three nearby houses.

Bloomfield’s then-director of public works, Richard Wilcox, told the DNR that the site was intended to be merely a dump site and that he was unaware someone had set fire to the debris, but less than a month later it was on fire again, according to a DNR report.

The city later closed the site to the public and sought signed waivers from the neighbors that would enable it to burn the debris. Those waivers were not obtained, and in December the DNR fielded another complaint about the debris burning. That time, the city admitted to setting it afire.

“I think it was just miscommunication,” City Administrator Tomi Jo Day said.

Wilcox, who was contracted by the city to serve temporarily as its head of public works, had left the post, and there was confusion about the status of the burn site, she said.

The city has since found a new location near the lake that is sufficiently distanced from dwellings. It’s expected to open to the public soon, Day said.

The smoke from the fires did not cause damage to nearby homes, said Anthony Kerker, an environmental specialist for the DNR who is involved with the case, but the city agreed this month to pay a $2,000 fine to settle the matter.

“We gave them three chances, and they just kept on doing it,” Kerker said.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.