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Local air quality regs change postponed

| January 10, 2006 11:00 PM

Adoption of proposed changes to air quality regulations for the Libby area has been delayed pending revisions to the draft regulations to clear up concerns raised during a review by Lincoln County Attorney Bernie Cassidy and state Department of Environmental Quality officials.

According to a letter from Cassidy to county sanitarian Ron Anderson, the revisions "are mainly procedural rather than material." Anderson said the changes are being made to ensure there are no conflicts with state and federal regulations and to clarify definitions of terms such as "bonfire."

A second reading of the proposed changes had been scheduled for Monday by both the county commissioners and the city council. Once the revisions are made, the second readings will be rescheduled. According to Cassidy, the second readings should take place at least 30 days before March 23, when the regulations are scheduled for final approval by the state Board of Environmental Review.

During a hearing accompanying the first reading of the regulations by the county commissioners last month, public comments centered largely on proposed changes in regulations for open burning for forest management and fire hazard reduction. Currently, management burning is allowed from March through November. The changes would limit that to April through October. Several people attending the meeting suggested that burning should be allowed in November, when slash piles are dry but the fire hazard is low. Air quality specialist Kendra Lind of the county environmental health department responded that there are typically few days in November where weather conditions permit open burning without significant negative effects on the airshed.

Other proposed changes would limit residential open burning — not including small recreational fires — to the month of April, with a provision for an extension to May if warranted by poor weather earlier in the spring. The open burning changes would go into effect in 2006.

Starting in 2007, only wood stoves certified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency would 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 would extend to the neighborhood around the Red Dog Saloon and Doak Creek.

The changes are a response to the area's 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.

The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, which represents the woodstove industry, donated 300 EPA-certified stoves last year for distribution to area residents meeting low-income requirements. Funding from the EPA was allocated to cover installation costs. About half of the stoves have been installed to date.

This year, a $1 million federal grant will be used for vouchers to subsidize the cost of residents not meeting low-income requirements to replace their non-certified stoves with either a certified stove or an alternate heating source. The second phase of the changeout program will kick off with a fair at the Memorial Center on Saturday, Jan. 21.