With controlled burning permits now free in Maine from all sources, the creators of groundbreaking online services feel vindicated
PITTSTON – When Talis Jordans decided to burn on Thursday, he didn’t think about it any further.
Jordans went to the online platform his city used to issue cremation permits, filled out the form, and was up and running in minutes.
Now anyone across Maine can do practically the same thing, thanks to a law that went into effect earlier this month that puts the state incineration permit system on par with the privately operated systems that cities and towns have used for nearly a decade.
“I think it’s a great win for Maine residents who can now use technology to replace outdated systems,” said Matthew Scott, a Gorham firefighter, on Thursday.
Scott developed BurningPermit.com, an online platform used by a dozen communities in Maine today.
“The electronic service should always have been free as a service to the municipalities of the state for the sake of convenience and streamlining of data management,” he said.
The law – LD 268 – ends the $ 7 fee the Maine Forest Service levied on online fire permits and makes the one-day permits free. It also enables privately operated systems to charge communities for their performance, if they so choose.
“It’s kind of a victory for all of us,” said Gary Hickey II. “We don’t stop what we’re doing.”
Hickey was a firefighter in West Gardiner when he and another firefighter were working on what would later become Warden’s Report, an online platform that enabled fire ladders to issue fire permits without residents having to track down the ladder or a fire attendant to obtain a paper permit .
The aim of the service was to save money. With the online platform, cities would no longer have to pay a fire station to issue paper permits, and residents would no longer have to pay $ 7 to get a permit from the state forest service.
While the Maine Forest Service was aware of both the Warden Report and BurningPermit.com, the service said in 2017 that it allowed those services to be “mistaken” and worked to prevent their use.
Maine Forest Service officials sent letters to more than 70 communities advising them not to use the private online sites and suggesting that residents be guilty of a crime if they relied on these permits, instead of using the services of the state.
Forest Service officials claimed that the only legitimate way to get an online permit was through the Forest Service website, where two-day permits cost $ 7 at the time. A review by the Maine Attorney General’s office found that while the authority to issue paper permits could be delegated to city fire chiefs and guards, there was no authority to use privately owned software or websites to issue permits.
In July of that year, an emergency law was passed that allowed both companies to continue operating in Maine.
Nevertheless, the dispute lasted until 2018. The Maine Forest Service continued to defend the permits issued on its website as the better option and advised against using the private systems.
In 2018, the Maine Legislature passed law requiring the director of the Bureau of Forestry to continue allowing communities to use private burning permit-issuing services if the software meets the requirements set out in state law.
The concern of the forest service was public safety. Open burns are not allowed in Maine until after 5:00 p.m. While some communities choose to lift restrictions on allowable incineration times, the responsibility rests with residents who apply for permission to review conditions for incineration.
The private platforms gave fire chiefs the opportunity to stop burns if conditions did not allow it or for other reasons. They also gave them an easy way to verify that a reported fire was a controlled burn before the firefighters were dispatched. At the time, several fire chiefs in central Maine said they preferred Warden’s Report because of its ease of use and availability of information.
They also said that a free service made it easier for people to burn legally.
This was a sentiment that was reflected in the hearings on the proposed bill earlier this year, when Eric Venturini, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, testified that the bill would encourage wild blueberry farmers to use online permits, which saves both them and their communities time.
Scott said Maine residents shouldn’t have to pay a fee on top of the taxes they already pay.
As for the recharge, Hickey said he wasn’t interested in tracking that.
“The state couldn’t compete with our free system,” said Hickey. “So I cannot start with the store and compete with the free system of the state.”
From a few dozen parishes, Warden’s Report has grown to 160 parishes across the state and has issued more than 60,000 permits this year.
In Pittston, Jordans, who burns quite often, instead of having to track someone down to issue a paper permit, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, said it is easier to fill in a few screens on the computer to get a permit.
“You fill in the gaps, print it out, sign it and have it ready for the day,” he said.