Chimney dispute highlights internal conflict in Jay Township Board
A complaint initiated by a resident regarding a neighbor's outdoor furnace was the impetus for disagreement between residents and supervisors, as well as a heated debate, which ensued at Thursday night's meeting of the Jay Township Board of Supervisors. Resident Sid Delansky said that constant emissions from his neighbor Howie Barnett's chimney are a nuisance and have exacerbated his pre-existing health issues. Supervisor Fran Gustafson said a lawyer had been commissioned and the state Department of Environmental Protection consulted in order to determine the board's recourse in the matter. He went on to explain that the board's hands are bound by the township ordinance, which states that a chimney's height must be two feet above the nearest neighbor's residence within 300 feet and any home not served by the furnace. "The DEP came down and said it was not an outside furnace. That's why we called the attorney to determine if it was an outside furnace by our ordinance or not an outside furnace by our ordinance. We don't have anything to say about an indoor furnace," Gustafson said.Gustafson also explained that a letter provided by the lawyer consulted in the matter reinforced the ordinance, stating that in the lawyer's legal opinion, "the chimney should be above the house."Rippey said that according to the ordinance, existing or "grandfathered-in" furnaces like Barnett's, which were in place before the ordinance was created, still have to adhere to regulations on chimney height. A petition against the furnace was provided to the supervisors. Some of the residents assembled accused the board of "dragging their feet" on the issue, claiming it was one of quality of life and public welfare and that the board could exercise executive powers accordingly. Gustafson said that he could not prove the adverse health effects were directly linked to the smoke being produced by Barnett's furnace."We'd have to prove that's what's making you [Delansky] sick...if they were burning tires, I could stop them. But I can't make the man stop burning wood," Gustafson said. In addressing Delansky, Lilley said, "If we figure out how tall your house is and add two feet to it, that solves the problem." Lilley expressed frustration at his fellow supervisors for having commissioned a lawyer's counsel in the matter without having first consulted him. He said he was unaware that any overture to a lawyer had been made, and that he had not been included, by the other supervisors, in their discussion. "I had no idea about this, you guys are spending money...I found out about it when he [Barnett] brought the letter to my house. You still have to have approval of the board to spend money regardless of what it is. No one made a motion to go to the attorney," Lilley said."We talked to Howie [Barnett] and we talked about putting it [the chimney stack] higher," Gustafson said. Lilley asked Gustafson to identify the "we" he was referring to and reiterated that he had not been included in the discussions or consulted before the lawyer was contacted. Gustafson and Rippey maintained that Lilley had known about and been involved in their deliberations on the matter. "We've been talking back and forth for months about this and I even mentioned to Keith [Lilley] in the garage about this," Gustafson said. Lilley again accused the other supervisors of impropriety for having discussed the issue not in the officially sanctioned venue of a meeting, but privately. "That was not at a meeting. I'm saying to you that you went to the attorney without anybody knowing, nobody else knew about it, I didn't know about it. You guys knew about it," Lilley said. Robert Coppolo of Weedville said he twice observed on Wednesday Rippey's vehicle parked at Gustafson's house on Apple Street and that "when an elected official or government official in a second-class township spends an hour at your house...it raises questions in my mind." Gustafson did not deny Rippey having been at his house on that day, but said there was nothing insidious or improper about the meeting. "He's allowed to park at my residence, come into my house and have coffee and talk all he wants," Gustafson said. Coppolo said he found it hard to believe that the two supervisors were together "for over an hour" without having discussed township business. Regarding Lilley not having been there, Coppolo said, "Keith [Lilley] wasn't invited, right, Keith?" Lilley did not respond. When Gustafson said that supervisors are out together every day in managing township business and affairs, Coppolo said, "There's a difference when you sit down and talk about things, that's going into the realm of deliberation." When Coppolo said that supervisors are accountable to the public, Gustafson asked to what degree. "I'm accountable for what? Who comes to my house?" Gustafson said. Asked if any deliberation of township business had occurred, Gustafson said, "I'll say no."