BAXTER — Leaves are still many weeks from budding but they were on the minds of Baxter City Council members Tuesday.
During a work session, before and after the regular session, the council asked staff to draft a leaf burning ban in dense residential areas. Consensus with the council was to modify the city’s existing hunting map and come up with a defined area where leaf burning would be allowed and where it wouldn’t following where hunting is allowed and where it is prohibited.
That would be a change for the city. The issue has been debated for a number of years. The city, noted for its large residential lots, currently allows leaf burning with the day depending on the odd or even side of the streets.
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said there are nights when the wind dies down and people burn leaves not entirely dry, resulting in hovering smoke that looks like fog.
“That’s when people get upset,” Exsted said.
City Administrator Gordon Heitke said leaf burning complaints grow each year. He estimated the city gets 10 complaints a year. Council member Todd Holman noted for each person who does complain there are others who share that opinion without vocalizing it.
Council member Jim Klein said it still represented a small percentage of the city’s population. After Exsted’s comments on wet leaves and no wind, Klein said: “You can’t legislate common sense and you can’t legislate being a good neighbor.”
Klein added he hated to see the change. “But I guess that’s the way to go,” he said.
If the city votes for the ban and restricts it to hunting areas, leaf burning could be allowed to the more rural areas mainly west and south of the city’s denser residential areas.
Hand-in-hand with the leaf burning discussion was the council’s plan for a leaf drop site. The city closed its leaf drop site of Mapleton Road. The leaf drop site was by the water treatment facility but was identified as a threat to the city’s drinking water source protection and management area, designed to manage the wellhead area that serves as a recharge resource for city wells.
The city talked to the Northland Arboretum to find an option for its residents to get rid of leaves at a compost site. Spring cleanup time is fast approaching. The move would mean expanding the Arb’s current leaf drop site and making improvements estimated at $15,725. The city was not asked to cover the complete cost, but Public Works Director Trevor Walter said the Arb estimates 80 percent of the people currently using the leaf drop site are from Baxter. Fifteen percent were estimated to be from Brainerd and 5 percent from Crow Wing County.
Baxter previously set aside about $3,500 for its leaf disposal site along with uncounted hours to manage the leaf piles. Baxter council members noted there may be options for grant dollars for the compost site development.
The Crow Wing County Landfill takes leaves and yard waste at no charge. Mayor Darrel Olson said that’s good but joked the landfill seems like a two-day drive from Baxter. Hengel Construction, which is much closer, also takes in leaves, Olson said.
Options discussed included constructing another leaf collection site in Baxter away from the wellhead protection area, contacting waste haulers to see if there was an interest in doing a designated curbside leaf pickup a couple of weekends a year, encouraging residents to compost leaves and seeing what the Arb’s concept plan may be. Another suggestion was contacting Anderson Brothers to see if a one weekend pickup may work.
Holman said he was concerned with every leaf in Baxter going to the Arb as Excelsior Road already has 9,000 cars per day and there isn’t a turn lane option for leaf haulers.
Whatever option the city chooses there is an expected cost. When Klein suggested using a city dump truck to pick up leaves, Council member Mark Cross didn’t want something like Brainerd’s experience with a city pickup for junk.
“I watched that fiasco in Brainerd,” Cross said. “I don’t think we want a curbside pickup of anything.”
Walter noted the city has 10 loads of leaves a day just removing leaves from city parks.
“That’s a lot of leaves for the whole city of Baxter — several thousand yards — (and) we can only haul five yards at a time with the dump truck,” Walter said.
The council asked staff to update options with garbage haulers and Hengel’s Ready Mix and Construction. Either way, officials said it’s likely the cost for a new plan will be a bigger annual piece of the city budget. Council member Rob Moser was absent.