AUGUSTA — When does cutting firewood in the backyard to keep your family warm become fuel wood processing that is an illegal nuisance to your neighbors?

City councilors voted Thursday to task the Planning Board with answering that question by coming up with a definition of commercial fuel wood processing, to better distinguish it from private wood-cutting for individual use.

Matt Nazar, deputy director of development services, said a starting point would be to define commercial cutting as anything over a certain amount of wood, for instance, 10 cords per year. He drafted language for a potential definition, which Mayor William Stokes said would be forwarded to the Planning Board for its consideration, including the potential 10-cord per year limit.

Stokes said the only remaining major unanswered question for the council after discussing the issue is where to determine when cutting wood for personal use becomes commercial fuel wood processing.

“Is 10 cords the number?” Stokes said. “Or is it 12 cords, is it 15 cords?” A cord is a stack of wood four feet high, four feet wide and eight feet long.

Councilors discussed the issue last week, and Thursday agreed 6-0 to send the issue to the Planning Board without discussion.

Councilors were asked to take action by Outlet Road area residents who say their neighbor is cutting wood nearly every day and sometimes into the night, circumventing the rules by saying he’s cutting wood for himself or to give to family members. They said he has cut about 60 cords brought to his Wilderness Way home in six tractor-trailer loads, since April. They believe he sells it as firewood after he cuts it up.

Fuel wood processing is allowed in only a few zones in the city. There is at least one business in the city with the proper approval operating where it is an allowed use.

Cutting enough firewood for personal use, to heat a home, is allowed throughout the city.

Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney, said the city’s rules against cutting wood commercially in residential zones could be more easily enforced if the city better defined commercial wood cutting. He previously said he was concerned that the city’s ordinances do not define what fuel wood processing is, making it difficult to enforce or defend in court.

Cutting and splitting wood at the same spot a tree was cut down is considered part of timber harvesting under city ordinance, which is allowed in a wider area of the city than cutting up felled trees after they are brought to another site.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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