Resident outcry over an increase in respiratory illnesses caused by controlled burns near the Heritage subdivision in Dripping Springs has pushed some to question regulatory authority over the practice, primarily near populated areas.
The issue involves controlled brush burns conducted by Meritage Homes, which is clearing land south of Founders Park and U.S. Highway 290 for future development.
Several neighbors who spoke during public comment at the April 9 Dripping Springs City Council meeting demanded the city halt the burning. They cited several instances where residents have been transported to the hospital where they were diagnosed with bronchitis, laryngitis, severe allergies and headaches.
Teresa Tautfest, a resident in the Heritage subdivision, said she was recently diagnosed with laryngitis as a result of the burning. Many others in her neighborhood have also suffered similar illnesses.
“Our children are playing hundreds of yards from four burn piles,” Tautfest said. “The city needs to adapt its laws to the rapid growth it’s experiencing.”
Adults, children and parents have all been subject to respiratory illnesses. Some residents cited a blanket of ash that’s covered cars and pools throughout the neighborhood.
Tautfest asked council to take action and plan accordingly when big developers clear brush and trees for future development.
Mayor Todd Purcell said once the city was aware of the health risks as a result of the burning, the city asked Meritage to halt the operation.
“Since we’ve got the comments, we are diving in and look at our ordinances,” Purcell said. “We addressed it immediately.”
Purcell said the city does not have the legal authority to stop the developer at this time; city staff is investigating the issue.
Purcell said the city hopes something can be drafted on a future agenda “really quickly.”
Michelle Mostert said “severe bronchitis,” which she contracted as a result of the controlled burns, has kept her away from her business and clients. Another resident said the burning resulted in an $6,000 in hospital bills.
Residents fear that the burning could not only be detrimental to humans, but also their pets, too. Many outdoor dogs were difficulty breathing.
“I’ve lost a lot of business and clients because they couldn’t see me,” Mostert said. “This community is getting more crowded, and now these things are close…I can’t handle this. I’m miserable.”