EUREKA TOWNSHIP — The Eureka Township Board fired its contracted lawn care service company Monday for allegedly conducting illegal burns at the cemetery it provides service for.
The board voted 6-1 to relieve North Woods of Belding of its contract with the township, which was approved just last month.
The decision stems from an April 24 incident where an illegal burn led to a grass fire at Eureka Cemetery on Jordan Road where board members claim North Woods lawn service caretaker David Hodges was conducting unauthorized burns.
Eureka Township Zoning Administrator Thomas Faussett said Hodges admitted to burning leaves April 22, two days before the grass fire, but also claimed the fires were properly put out. The grass fire April 24 required the Greenville Department of Public Safety, which contracts with the township for fire service, extinguish the flames. Faussett said Hodges claims the fire April 24 was not started by him. Neither Hodges nor any other representative of North Woods was present Monday while the township board discussed the incident.
Eureka Township ordinances require a permit for any open burn. The leaf burning by North Woods did not have a permit. Because the cemetery borders city property, it also breaks Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requirements that do not allow an open burn within 1,400 feet of the city.
Board members said they were convinced the actions were a breach of contract and decided 6-1, with Supervisor Rodney Roy casting the lone dissenting vote, to cut ties with North Woods.
“I specifically remember asking him, or someone asking him if he was going to be hauling the stuff away and he said yes. I think we were all with the understanding he was to be hauling this stuff away,” said Trustee Jeremy Austin. “At the very least, it wasn’t respectful to the ground. It is sort of a sacred area to just start torching stuff.”
A fire report of the grass fire call included an interview with Hodges in which the caretaker admitted to burning leaves two days prior but that he had ceased once he was told by township officials it was an ordinance violation.
Clerk Linda Ruwersma said nearby residents said they saw employees of North Woods burning leaves at the cemetery on several occasions, including after the company had been informed it was against township ordinance.
The board decided to award the lawn service bid to the second lowest bidder, Cutting Edge Lawn Care, if they are still interested.
“I just think we should not honor that contract and he should not have his job,” said Trustee Elaine Pendrick of North Woods. “I just don’t think that showed responsibility for what happened.”
North Woods was awarded the contract on April 14, which covered mowing, trimming and other general lawn care services. Board members said the company would be paid for the work it has already done.