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Posted on: April 17, 2019

Let's Talk about the City Brush Pile

brush pile

The land for the city brush pile (east of town off Highway 22) was donated in 1923, almost a hundred years ago. For as long as most anyone can remember, the brush pile has always been accessible unless the road was too muddy and vehicles might get stuck. It was posted that only limbs, leaves, grass clippings and vegetative matter could be deposited. Everyone was on their honor. It worked well for a long time.

But, as the saying goes, “the one constant in life is change.” Originally, the city operated the brush pile fairly independently. But natural resource protection by the State of Texas, in parallel with the federal government, gradually evolved from protecting the right of access to surface water to a broader role of protecting public health and conserving natural resources for future generations. The protection of water resources was expanded to include protecting air resources and to the regulation of both hazardous and non-hazardous waste.

Over time, numerous programs were consolidated to create the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, a comprehensive environmental protection agency. In 2001, the agency’s name was changed to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

TCEQ takes waste management VERY seriously and so does the City. There are numerous regulations for processing, transporting, storing and disposing of waste materials. Permits, registrations and other authorizations are required for waste management. To ensure compliance, TCEQ conducts site visits and inspections.

Unfortunately, as another saying goes, a few bad apples can spoil the whole barrel. Instead of limbs, leaves and vegetative matter, the “bad apples” dumped mattresses and PVC pipe and household garbage at the brush pile. In response, TCEQ mandated conditions for the continued operation of the city brush pile (which TCEQ refers to as a designated “burn site”):

  • Access to the burn site must be controlled at all times, and
  • No burning of any material is allowed except for trees, brush, leaves, branch trimmings or other plant growth, and
  • The burn site is limited to City of Hamilton residents only.

As a short-term solution, the city is now operating the City Burn Site (formerly “the brush pile”) on the same schedule as the Bulk Waste Collection Facility next door. This keeps the Burn Site available without increasing labor costs. The hours are 8 a.m. until noon every Tuesday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to noon on the third Saturday of each month. Both facilities are closed on Mondays to allow city staff to do Curbside Pick-Ups for those residents unable to transport their bulk waste due to age, infirmity or other circumstances. There is no additional cost to city residents; the $10 annual Bulk Waste Permit will provide access to both facilities.

What is the long-term plan? The eco-friendly folks advocate the complete elimination of burning and instead using tree limbs and brush as a natural habitat for wildlife. There are online sites that describe building backyard brush piles by placing larger limbs on the bottom and criss-crossing smaller limbs on top so birds can fly in and out (like in a Disney movie).  However, these folks must not have the same “wildlife” that we have in central Texas, because most of us don’t want skunks, possums, raccoons and snakes taking up residence in our backyards!

A more practical approach that also involves no burning would be to move toward chipping and/or composting. The composted plant matter could be made available for community gardens. The chipped trees and limbs could be provided for residential landscaping.

Several other options are currently under consideration, each taking into account staffing, costs, sustainability, site availability and environmental impact. The city regrets any inconvenience that these changes have made for residents.

Keep up with City of Hamilton news at HamiltonTexas.com.

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