Spokane’s air quality cops got 278 complaints during this year’s grass field burning season.
Or maybe a lot more.
The Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority’s telephone system broke down in mid-September during some of the worst smoke pollution, agency staff members told the SCAPCA board on Thursday.
Phone lines were out for two days, said SCAPCA’s Ron Edgar.
Steve Hasson, a Spokane County Commissioner and SCAPCA board member, was angry about the glitches - which also included a blown fuse on a small particle monitor tracking smoke on the Idaho border in southwest Spokane County.
“What kind of sorry organization is this?” Hasson asked staff members. “We want you to do this right. We are going to end up in litigation if we don’t.”
The worst pollution came on the first day of burning in August, when smoke from southwest Spokane County headed toward Cheney, and in mid-September, when inversions caused the smoke to hang in the Spokane area for several days, said SCAPCA’s Ed Hayes III.
In a draft report to the board, Hayes said the mid-September pollution from tiny smoke particles was heavy enough that it came close to triggering an “impaired air quality” alert - similar to the “yellow” light during the wood-stove burning season in winter.
“The stagnant air kept the fine particles in the area,” he said.
The five-member air pollution board is feeling the heat from area residents angry about the grass smoke that swirled into urban areas this year.
The board also is feeling pressure from Spokane County growers, who want to expand grass field acreage next year and are threatening a lawsuit challenging SCAPCA efforts to cap the acres planted in Kentucky bluegrass.
The growers won a political battle earlier this year when they persuaded the Washington Legislature to remove SCAPCA limits on their burning season.
The growers chose a voluntary 47-day season that ended Sept. 30 in Spokane County, and ends today in Idaho.
In Washington, they burned on 19 days during the burning “window” that started Aug. 15.
Because of poor weather conditions this year, Spokane County growers were able to burn less than 20,000 acres of the 27,454 permitted.
SCAPCA will gather other data from Idaho’s burning season and prepare a final report on the pollution incidents, Hayes said.
Also on Thursday, the Intermountain Grass Growers’ Association took out a full-page ad in The Spokesman-Review.
“We Get The Message!” the ad said, noting the growers will begin to “reassess” their farming practices in response to public criticism.
Last Friday, the growers announced they dropped out of the Inland Northwest Field Burning Summit, a public forum where field burning policies have been discussed for the past five years.