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Air quality district burn permits available online this year

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | March 15, 2022 7:00 AM

Residents of the Libby Air Quality Control District can apply for burn permits online beginning this year.

Previously, those looking to burn in the month of April have needed to visit with the county health department personally. No longer. Starting this week, residents can apply for the free burn permit electronically.

“In the past, this has all been either through the walk-ins or phone calls to the various agencies that issue the burn permits, but we we’re trying to be automated, be online,” said Jennifer Nelson, county forester.

County officials may use the online system for other types of permits in the future, but they focused on the air quality district to start, Nelson said. Most of the permits processed each year involve the district, she said.

“We estimate that about 700 permits are issued and it’s a huge workload for the health department,” Nelson said.

Using an online portal, found at https://app.egovmt.com/burnpermit/, residents can select for Lincoln County and opt for a burn permit. From there, users will add their contact information and the address where they want to burn during the month long season. If the address isn’t found in the system, residents can use a map function to find the location.

There is an option to add multiple burn locations, Nelson said. Once that’s done, users are asked to review their information before moving ahead.

Finally, users must acknowledge the rules and regulations involved in applying for a burn permit. Nelson said the developers have, at the request of county officials, added links to the applicable sections of the Montana Code Annotated and the air quality district regulations.

Once the permit is approved, residents can print out a copy or have the digital version sent to their email.

“Hopefully people will like this,” Nelson said. “They don’t have to come in; they don’t have to contact us during working hours.”

For this first year, all residents using the portal will need to upload their information, regardless of whether they previously received a permit. Nelson said the health department kept a massive spreadsheet of regular applicants to ease the workload associated with burn season. That information will need to be resubmitted online this year, she said.

While residents have a variety of ways to see whether the conditions allow, on a specific day, burning, officials hope they use the online portal first. After receiving a permit, residents still need to activate it on the day they intend to start a fire. Were weather conditions unfavorable, the website will refuse to activate the permit and inform the holder of the reason why, said Dustin Webb, county environmental health specialist.

Webb is in charge of coordinating with the state Department of Environmental Quality and working with meteorologists to determine whether burning is permissible. Residents stymied by the weather can pick another day, he said.

As regular applicants know, the permits apply to just the air quality control district and for residential burns. Management burn permits will be issued as per normal, with Nelson and Libby Fire Chief Steve Lauer signing off on the projects.

As a reminder, Nelson noted that residential burns are for natural and untreated vegetative growth. Stumps, leaves and grass trimmings are ineligible for the burns as they tend to smolder, she said.

If residents run into complications activating a permit, they are encouraged to contact the health department at (406) 283-2442. Webb said he or one of his colleagues would activate a permit on their behalf.

Anticipating hiccups during this inaugural season, Webb and Nelson said the county planned on keeping its residential burn hotline active at (406) 293-5644.

“We want people to try this, but we expect that there will be issues, either with users or with the program,” Nelson said. “Hopefully, we’ve worked out most of the kinks with this whole testing process.”