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Last call goes out for free stoves

| February 8, 2007 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Editor

About 60 free woodstoves are still up for grabs to qualifying low-income households through the Libby area's stove changeout program.

The stoves will be available until the end of February, when the program will come to an end, said Ron Anderson, director of the Lincoln County Environmental Health Department.

"We've got a pile of stoves here that we'd really like to get installed," Anderson said.

The stoves are what remains of 300 donated to the county in 2005 by the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, which represents woodstove manufacturers. They are available at no cost to low-income homeowners and to landlords with low-income tenants for a $500 co-payment.

Certified by the Environmental Protection Agency as clean-burning, the stoves were donated to replace non-certified stoves and help the Libby area come into compliance with new federal air quality regulations. Smoke from woodstoves has been determined to be the major cause of the area's failure to meet the new standards.

In the second phase of the changeout program, in 2006, a $1 million EPA grant made vouchers available to help replace non-certified stoves in homes not meeting the low-income guidelines set for the first phase. About 850 vouchers were given out, with each voucher covering about half the cost of installing a new woodstove or other replacement heating source.

Anderson said his office is still accepting applications for vouchers because some of those that were issued have not been redeemed.

"We know what we've expended - we know what the budget allowed," Anderson said. "Now we're just walking a tightrope of issuing vouchers to those who have convinced us they're absolutely going to use them."

As of Jan. 1, only EPA-certified woodstoves are legal to use in an 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.

After the changeout program is closed at the end of February, the county will be taking a tougher stance on enforcement, Anderson said. The fine for burning wood in a non-certified stove is $25 per day, with each day counted as a separate offense, he said.

Prior to the changeout, it was estimated that there were about 1,200 non-certified woodstoves in the Libby area. Replacing those stoves is expected to bring the area into compliance with the new regulations, but if the area still does not meet those standards the alternative is to ban the use of woodstoves altogether, Anderson said.

"That's a last-ditch effort," he said.

Anderson also advises owners of certified stoves that the stoves need to be burned correctly, with proper wood, to ensure clean burning. A thermometer on the stovepipe - available free from Anderson's office - will indicate if the stove has reached the right temperature. Walking outside and looking at the smoke coming from the chimney will also help the owner see if the stove is burning cleanly.

"If they're burned too cold, they're going to sit and smoke," Anderson explained. "The won't put out the heat they're designed to do, and it defeats the purpose."