Letter: Fix needed to stop trash burning in Buncombe

Graphic by Lori Deaton

In response to “Q&A: Ashley Featherstone of Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency” [April 20, Xpress]:

I live in Buncombe County and for decades, my neighbors have burned trash. The fumes come inside my house and blanket my property. I instantly get a headache breathing it. It burns the throat and eyes. I have videoed the black smoke. And have called the Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency many times. And AQA will not send anyone there without a police escort.

What I’m complaining about is the ineffectiveness of trying to put an end to this burning. I have to catch them burning during business hours. Often, they burn at night or on the weekends, knowing AQA is closed. If they slack and burn on a weekday, it takes hours for AQA to get the police escort, and by then, the evidence is gone. The neighbors are burning in smaller batches now, so there are shorter fires and less smoke. AQA has to get permission to search the property if they can’t see obvious smoke. (The smell remains, and they do smell it, but they must dig through the fire itself to confirm.)

And I recently learned that if the perpetrators are caught, the next step is that papers are served and they must appear in court. Only then they might receive a fine. I know that the neighbors have a radio scanner. They will vacate the premises if they know any officers are coming. And they almost always seem to know.

I’m not blaming AQA, let me be clear. But the system is set up for limited effectiveness. For 30 years, it’s gone on!

One solution could be for AQA to acquire the means for a quick response and to have the authority, once the evidence is found, to fine them on the spot. This would be after a initial warning. I know if they were put out $200 for a first fine with increasing amounts after, that would likely end it.

I think this would help reduce trash burning in our mountains still further. It is frustrating to no end that I had to raise my child in this situation and still today must live with these conditions.

— Name withheld
Buncombe County

Editor’s note: Xpress contacted the Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office with a summary of the letter writer’s points (and permission to disclose the writer’s address to the agencies) and received the following responses:

James Raiford, permitting program manager, replied on behalf of the AQA: “The Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency responds to all complaints about open burning. Burning trash is illegal in Buncombe County. There are certain cases that the agency will ask for assistance from the Sheriff’s Office if it is believed that the violator could be a danger to our staff. Illegal burning after normal business hours should be reported by calling 911 so the fire department and/or our agency can respond.

“If illegal burning is found during a complaint investigation, a notice of violation will be issued, and this may include a civil penalty of up to $750 for an individual for a first offense. The civil penalty is issued via certified mail, and if the violator does not sign for this document, our agency will seek assistance from the county Sheriff’s Office for delivery. If the penalty is not paid, our agency will begin a legal process of securing the penalty.

“We have responded to complaints at the address associated with this letter. The most recent investigation occurred in December of 2021, and no evidence of the burning of illegal materials was found. We will continue to investigate complaints at this location.”

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Aaron Sarver provided a list of records showing the department had responded to multiple requests for service at the writer’s address: “Speaking solely for the Sheriff’s Office, the residents at [the writer’s address] are not happy with the outcome, despite numerous visits by the Sheriff’s Office to both addresses. … I frequently deal with this scenario, where community members are advised of their rights and what action can be taken by the BCSO or Buncombe County, and when their desired outcome is not met, they threaten to or go to the media, thinking this will cause us to change course or handle the situation in a more expedited manner. The Sheriff’s Office has devoted significant time and resources to this matter, and we stand by our response.”


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6 thoughts on “Letter: Fix needed to stop trash burning in Buncombe

  1. Snowdog

    So, basically, the person who wrote the complaint is spot on and the government official is talking like a politician. There’s a noise ordinance too. If 35 diesel trucks with kit mufflers spewing out fumes at 95 decibels, I can call a number and complain and the good ole boys will go on protecting the good ole boys. That’s Asheville for ya. Hip, cool, sleek, trendy. Wait, it’s polluted, over crowded, stuck in the past, controlled by hotels and Ingle’s, full of trash, trailer parks, but virtually no sidewalks, turn lanes, or quiet. South’s gonna rise again. Lee surrendered, I didn’t, bring back dixie. That’s what we’re still dealing with after all these centuries.

    • Jonathan Greene

      I’m not sure you can blanket-statement a whole county. Not everyone has those same ideals or thoughts. I can tell you that in regards to a noise ordinance, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Dept will do “NOTHING”. I’ve had an irresponsibly placed “entertainment event center” i.e. a converted metal building used as a bar and an open wood stage used to project absurdly loud music…right behind my property. The deputies actually work the event, while on duty, which apparently is paid by the owner and the sheriff’s department uses that as an excuse. (I also get told the reason why there’s so many drug pushers, crackheads and prostitution going on around here is because they are drastically short- staffed leaving areas with very scant patrol coverage for their size.) I’m told every time that they are in compliance with the noise ordinance…however…they are not. They say the ordinance says they can have music as loud as they want until 11pm – 7am. That is NOT what the ordinance says.

      Unnecessary noise, the loudness of these concerts meets the definition of unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary. In section b, #2 of Unnecessary noises, the time limit is NOT designated from 11pm-7am. It says verbatim, “particularly but not limited to the hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. as to annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of any person of normal sensibilities in any dwelling, motel, hotel or other type residence.” The time frame is particularly during those hours but NOT LIMITED TO. So, the interpretation that the sheriff’s department is telling citizens is wrong. Be it from incorrectly reading the ordinance or from knowingly misinterpreting to benefit from it…who knows? You would think a sheriff would be able to read an ordinance and know what it is saying. Or maybe that’s up to an attorney for the county or the DA. So, for the editor’s reply in regards to making it sound like the author of that letter was merely kicking up their heels to punish the hard-working sheriff’s department I’d suggest saving that type of swooning to romance movies. People don’t write to complain about things to get people in trouble. They write because they have exhausted ALL channels available to them and not received the help they should. Same with the county commissioners. I can count on one hand the number of replies I have received to letters emailed to them through the county site. I can also count on ONE FINGER the number of replies where that commissioner actually took the time to read the letter and reply with something other than “we will look into it”.

      Here’s a copy of the pertinent areas of the noise ordinance.

      ARTICLE IV. – NOISE [8]

      — (8) —
      Editor’s note— Ord. No. 03-04-02, § §§ 1—5, adopted April 8, 2003, repealed the former Art. IV, §§ 26-181—26-186, and enacted a new Art. IV as set out herein. The former Art. IV pertained to similar subject matter and derived from Ord. No. 95-10-5, arts. I—VI, adopted Oct. 3, 1995; Ord. No. 97-4-9, §§ 1—4, adopted April 8, 1997; Ord. No. 99-6-12, § 1, adopted June 22, 1999.

      State Law reference— Authority to regulate or prohibit the emission of noise or amplified speech, G.S § 153A-121, G.S. § 153A-123, G.S. § 153A-133.

      Sec. 26-181. – Unnecessary noises.

      (a) Subject to the provisions of this section, it shall be unlawful for any person or persons to make, permit, continue, or cause to be made or to create any unreasonably loud, disturbing, and unnecessary noise in the county. For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:
      (1) Unreasonably loud. Any noise which a reasonably prudent person would consider or find substantially incompatible with the time and location where created to the extent that such noise creates an actual or imminent interference with the peace, dignity or good order in the immediate area where created.
      (2) Disturbing. Noise that is perceived by a person of ordinary sensibilities as interrupting the normal peace and calm of the area.
      (3) Unnecessary. Any excessive or unusually loud sound or any sound which is of such character, intensity and duration as to disturb the peace and quiet of any neighborhood or which disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of any person and being a type of sound which could be lessened or otherwise controlled by the maker without unduly restricting his conduct.
      In determining whether a noise is unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary, the following factors incident to the noise are to be considered: time of day; proximity to residential structures; whether the noise is recurrent, intermittent or constant; the volume and intensity; whether the noise has been enhanced in volume or range by any type of mechanical means; the nature and zoning of the area; whether the noise is related to the normal operation of a business or other labor activity or is the result of some use for individual purposes; whether the noise is subject to being controlled without unreasonable effort or expense to the creator thereof.

      (b) The following acts, among others are declared to be loud, disturbing and unnecessary noises in violation of this section but this enumeration shall not be deemed to be exclusive.
      (1) Blowing horns. The sounding of any horn, whistle or signal device on any automobile, motorcycle, bus or other vehicle or railroad train, except as a danger signal or as required by law, so as to create any unreasonable, loud, or harsh sound or the sound of such device for any unnecessary and unreasonable period of time.
      (2) Radio, record players, etc. The playing of any radio, television set, record player, musical instrument or sound-producing or sound-amplifying device in such a manner or with such volume, particularly but not limited to the hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. as to annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of any person of normal sensibilities in any dwelling, motel, hotel or other type residence.

      (Ord. No. 03-04-02, § 3, 4-8-03)

      Sec. 26-185. – Burden of proof regarding exceptions.
      In any proceeding based upon this article, if an exception stated in this article would limit obligation, limit liability or eliminate either an obligation or liability, the person that would benefit from the application of the exception shall have the burden of proving that the exception applies and that the terms of the exception have been met.

      (Ord. No. 03-04-02, § 4, 4-8-03)

      Sec. 26-186. – Enforcement; violations; penalties.
      (a)Enforcement. The Sheriff of Buncombe County shall be responsible for enforcing this article in the unincorporated areas of the county.(b)Penalties. Any person who violates any provision of this article shall be guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor and fined not more than $200.00.(c)Violation. Each day of a continuing violation shall constitute a separate violation under this subsection.

    • Silence

      The new noise ordinance is a joke. I have neighbors that quite literally violate the ordinance several times a week. When I reported it I was told ‘well that’s not really how our lawyer sees it’. It is a black and white, clear as day violation and the city does nothing.

  2. Name withheld

    So, you publish enough information for those who have been complained upon to identify the author of the letter. Bravo, what was the point of withholding their name in print. Do you not see the issue here?

    • Tracy Rose

      Thanks for sharing your concern. In addition to the letter writer’s name, we also edited out the specific area of the county being referenced, along with other details. That seemed to be sufficient to obscure identities without turning it into a completely generic letter.

  3. Jonathan Greene

    Well….there was a glaring obvious omission in the editors response….”no burning of illegal materials”. That must mean there are legal materials in which to burn. Maybe you should list those.

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