Mount Pleasant PD investigating dumpster fires, City Commission debate fire ordinance

Mount Pleasant police are investigating four dumpster fires that occurred last weekend, marking 14 total dumpster fires in the city since the end of April.

In reaction, Mount Pleasant's City Commission are moving to make its emergency 300-foot fire ordinance a permanent law.

Despite the rash of fires, Commissioner Matthew Sous isn't convinced the ordinance should be made permanent based on the current language of the law.

"I was kind of on the fence about it (when it originally passed,)" Sous said during city commission's June 9 meeting. "But I understood we had a situation we had to deal with. I would much rather have some kind of work session where we can talk about some of the language and work it out before we go ahead and move ahead with a public meeting."

The ordinance, which went into place April 28, charges those within 300 feet of the fire with a misdemeanor.

Sous said the people starting the fires need to be punished, but the way the language reads now is confusing and could be interpreted differently by police and prosecutors.

"There’s no intent requirement," he said. "Maybe one option we could look at is adding some kind of intent element. Another thing I’ve been considering is the nature of the fire itself. We can quickly discern the intention of the fire."

While Mount Pleasant police looked into the other 10 fires, the most recent four dumpster fires are being investigated as being set by the same person or group of people.

Mount Pleasant Fire Chief Greg Walterhouse said dumpster fires can be particularly dangerous because they can spread easily.

"Certainly if it’s close to a vehicle or close to a structure, it could spread," Walterhouse said. "You never know what is in a dumpster. We worry about toxic smoke."

Sous said he believes the right language in the law could make a difference.

"I’m not opposed to punishing those who are setting the fires," Sous said. "I just want to make sure we have the right tool for the job."

Sous is worried there is a growing culture of starting dumpster and couch fires in Mount Pleasant. He said he does not want to see Central Michigan University take after Michigan State University's couch burning lifestyle.

"That is terrifying," he said. "I think right now it's definitely a problem. Once it's ingrained in your culture, it's going to be really hard to boot out. It's going to be something we need to act on now."

The city will hold a public hearing during its June 23 meeting for students and community members to give comments on the ordinance, Sous added.

A work session might be needed to make sure it is interpreted the correct way without changing the current language.

Mayor Sharon Tilmann said she wants to have the law in place before students come back for "Welcome Weekend" at the end of August.

"I think we did pass it to send a message, and I think that message got across loud and clear," she said. "I would hate to back-pedal and soften it. But I’m thinking there are probably some interpretations that are overzealous as far as people could put themselves in a position of being cited for an arrest."

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