August 28, 1995 in Idaho

Grass Burning Treaty Up In Smoke A Week Into Annual Season, Clean Air Advocates Say Management Plan Doing Little

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Barely a month after a new grass burning peace treaty was signed, antagonism threatens to unravel North Idaho’s smoke management program.

This, just a week into the annual torching of area bluegrass fields.

“If this is smoke management, it isn’t working” said Art Long, president of the Clean Air Coalition in Sandpoint. “We are subsidizing the industry with our breathing problems.”

In late July, environmental groups, Washington and Idaho growers and the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality signed a new smoke management plan. It called for voluntary fines for growers who burn out of turn, more air quality monitoring during burning season, and no burning on Fridays, weekends or holidays.

An hourly air pollution threshold was established, and growers agreed to stop igniting fields as soon as that limit was exceeded.

Clean air advocates hoped the agreement would limit smoke.

On Tuesday, the second day of the burning season, it was clear the deal did little good, Long said.

“We are still inundated,” Long said. “They aren’t burning today (Friday) and we have a pall of smoke hanging over Lake Pend Oreille.”

Long’s group is muttering about filing a lawsuit for “trespassing into our airshed” and is getting a good response to its call for donations to a legal war chest, he said.

The Kootenai County Clean Air Coalition is equally unhappy. “The only thing this agreement does is scatter smoke,” said Mike Rudbeck, president of the group.

His group is outraged that fewer than two dozen farmers make life miserable for so many people. They believe there are alternatives to burning, but don’t think growers give research more than token support.

This only increases the Kootenai Coalition’s resolve to have burning eliminated.

The Intermountain Grass Growers Association says these attitudes are counterproductive. “The grass growers are doing everything they can … to manage smoke in a way the won’t impact the populated areas,” said Martha Dailey, executive secretary.

“I think it’s a real disappointment that they want to turn their backs on it,” she said. “We are extremely disappointed that they are taking the victim aspect and thinking they have to sue,” she said.

The grass growers are looking for alternatives to burning, which is used to remove stubble and boost production. Three universities are participating in the research. Results are slow to emerge, she acknowledged.

“It takes years and years of determined work before anything is gained,” she said.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BURNED BY SMOKE? Those with complaints about grass-burning smoke can call (208) 666-5139, a hotline monitored by the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality.

This sidebar appeared with the story: BURNED BY SMOKE? Those with complaints about grass-burning smoke can call (208) 666-5139, a hotline monitored by the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality.

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