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Clean air agency dumps outdoor burn ban

SEATTLE Following the recommendations of their staff, the governing council of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency voted unanimously Feb. 28 to scuttle a proposed county-wide outdoor burning ban.
The council did move ahead with banning burning for purposes of land clearing.
Churning up plenty of criticism in the process, investigators at the clean air agency had been planning to push for a total burn ban effective in 2010. A change of heart came in the wake of hundreds of comments reaching the clean air authority.
Judging from the agencys Web site, most of the missives were complaints from rural areas of the county. Still, the thoughts registered by Gary and Carol Geissler of Marysville seemed fairly representative.
The couple said they have had problems with neighbors over burning. But they also described a complete burn ban as ridiculous. No doubt Howard Lucas of Arlington would agree.
Lucas wrote that a burn ban makes sense in urban or highly populated areas. But he said rural land owners need to burn waste, especially storm debris.
In a statement released Feb. 20, director of compliance for the clean air agency James Nolan said the criticism of total ban had convinced staffers to change their initial thinking. The final decision always was up to the governing council, which after voting against the ban ordered staffers to continue looking at the issue and return with further comments in October.
Although the agencys board of directors deferred action on residential yard waste burning, they clearly stated their intent that residential yard waste burning should ultimately be banned in denser sections of rural areas, Nolan said after the governing council vote.
As for the land clearing ban, in his earlier comments, Nolan said there were no convincing reasons to reverse the initial push toward such a ban. Virtually all public comment was directed at the more generalized prohibition. The land clearing ban goes into effect July 1.
Clean Air Agency Communications Specialist Alice Collingwood said the clean air agency has been accepting written comments by mail or e-mail on the bans for months. Further, she said in January the agency held five public hearings on the issue at various spots around the county. One such hearing in Arlington attracted some 50 people, Collingwood said.
According to Collingwood, only about 20 percent of all written comments supported the overall ban.
Collingwood said state law requires counties to consider outdoor burn bans every three years. Like Collingwood, Amy Warren is a spokesperson for the clean air agency. She said there are several factors officials must weigh when looking at bans.
For one thing, Warren said counties must consider whether or not there seem to be reasonable alternatives to burning. Collingwood added state rules are a bit vague on what constitutes reasonable alternatives, but in general legislation seems to ask local officials to include the availability of hauling services and regular trash removal as part of the overall equation.
It does look like there are more alternatives than the last time we did this, Collingwood said.
According to Warren, there are health issues at play in regard to the burn bans. She said the burning of yard waste undoubtedly creates particulate matter, a type of air pollution the agency considers among the most serious types of air contaminants it monitors.
Collingwood believes some residents are confused over where outdoor burning currently is allowed and what areas might be affected by new bans. While burning is legal in rural areas, bans already exist in incorporated areas and in designated urban growth areas.
People see folks burning across the line, so to speak, and wonder why they cant, Collingwood said. We get complaints about burning all the time.

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