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Stove fair kicks off second phase of changeout

| January 3, 2006 11:00 PM

The second phase of Libby's woodstove changeout program will kick off with a stove fair at the Memorial Center on Saturday, Jan. 21.

Unlike the first phase, which was limited to low-income households, the second phase of the changeout is open to all area households heated by non-certified woodstoves. A $1 million grant secured by U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns and provided through the Environmental Protection Agency budget will provide funding for vouchers to offset the cost to homeowners.

Starting in 2007, only wood stoves certified by the EPA as clean-burning will be allowed to be used in the Libby area. The area affected by the regulations extends along Montana Highway 37 nearly to Canoe Gulch, west along the Kootenai River to the Bighorn Terrace area, and south to Libby Creek. In the Pipe Creek area, the restrictions will extend to the neighborhood around the Red Dog Saloon and Doak Creek.

Voucher amounts will be $700 for an approved gas, wood or pellet heating appliance, $350 for installation by an approved installer, $200 for removal of an old stove without replacement, and $1,400 for furnace replacement or upgrade with a pellet or gas appliance. The first 250 applicants will receive a $100 bonus incentive.

Appliances must be purchased at authorized participating dealers. Dealers in Lincoln County, Flathead County and west to Sandpoint, Idaho, are eligible to

apply to participate in the program.

In addition to replacement of non-certified stoves, certified stoves needing a new catalytic unit or a rebuild will be covered under the program. Set fees of $35 per inspection and $350 per catalytic unit or rebuild will be paid to the dealer or installer performing the work.

Anyone not sure if a stove is certified or not can call the county environmental health office at 293-7781 extension 228 to find out, said county sanitarian Ron Anderson. Anything installed before 1990 is most likely uncertified, although installation after 1990 does not guarantee that it is certified, Anderson said.

The fair on Jan. 21 will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and include commercial displays along with special presentations and breakout sessions.

"We'll have a building full of appliances," Anderson said. "We're getting good feedback from dealers."

The fair will be a good opportunity for people to see what's available and begin planning for stove replacement, Anderson said.

"This is wide open," he said. "People can get whatever they need, whatever they want."

The second phase of the changeout program is targeting the estimated 900 non-certified stoves not covered by the first phase. Last year, the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association — which represents the woodstove industry — donated 300 stoves and associated equipment for distribution at no cost to area low-income households while the EPA provided funding for installation. About half of those stoves have been installed; the program will continue until the supply of stoves runs out, Anderson said.

The changeout program is part of the area's response to designation as a non-attainment area under new federal air quality standards governing particulate matter under 2.5 microns in size. Ongoing monitoring since 1999 has confirmed that the area consistently exceeds the federal annual average standard for PM-2.5. Wood smoke has been determined to be responsible for more than 80 percent of the pollution.

Along with the stove changeout, local air quality regulations are being revised to limit outdoor burning starting this year. Residential open burning — not including small recreational fires — is proposed to be restricted to the month of April, with a provision for an extension to May if warranted by poor weather earlier in the spring.

Open burning for forest management and fire hazard reduction is proposed to be limited to April through October. The change represents a reduction of one month on either end of the current open burning season, which runs from March through November.