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Woodstove regs take effect Jan. 1

| December 28, 2006 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Mary Geer has a warmer home this winter thanks to the Libby area's woodstove changeout program.

A new fireplace insert that meets federal air quality standards for burning wood to heat her home is the reason.

"It's way better than the old one we had," said Geer, who received money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to install the insert before the Jan. 1 deadline.

Come Monday, only EPA-certified stoves will be legal to use in the area that goes up Highway 37 almost to Canoe Gulch, west along the Kootenai River as far as Bighorn Terrace, up Pipe Creek to the Red Dog Saloon, and south to Libby Creek.

The Lincoln County Environmental Health Department will depend on squealing neighbors and air quality tests to catch those who did not comply, said director Ron Anderson.

"We're not going to bring in black helicopters and army tanks," Anderson said. "We've got a lot of folks who've made commitments to have them installed, yet installers haven't been available or the stove isn't here."

"We're going to just be doing an informational thing with no heavy handed enforcement," he continued. "If we notice a home with a smoky chimney, we'll contact them personally on the phone or write a letter."

It's hoped the new stoves will improve the air quality in the Libby area and bring it in compliance with federal air quality standards that haven't been met. Studies have shown that wood smoke is the culprit.

A phone survey by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and a mailing to heating assistance recipients helped officials determine the area had about 1,200 woodstoves.

"We made arrangements for over 1,000 and are getting close to that goal," Anderson said.

The county received $985,200 for residents to buy new EPA-certified woodstoves or other clean-burning heating systems. Some 850 vouchers were distributed to cover about half the cost of a new stove along with installation.

In addition, Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association donated 300 stoves for low-income households.

Ongoing monitoring will show if the new stoves effect air qualify. If they don't, there could be a total ban on wood heat.

Anderson hopes peer pressure will help with enforcement.

"We're hoping those that changed their stove will notice who didn't and will call in with an anonymous complaint," he said.

The amount and color of smoke coming from a chimney is an indicator.

Employees with environmental health will not be out patrolling.

"I don't anticipate anyone in the department doing that," Anderson said. "I think theoretically we don't have to leave the office to get a lot of enforcement. If people choose not to comply, there's an awful lot of eyes. The chimney is a giveaway."

Violators will be warned a couple of times before they are charged with an offense that carries a $25 daily fine.

Anderson commended the community for its cooperation.

"We targeted 1,200 stoves," he said. "That's quite a phenomenal goal to face. The community has really stepped up to the plate and done a tremendous job. I think we will notice a dramatic difference in winter air. I've lived here all my life and can see the difference every day."