The committee responsible for implementing Washington state’s three-year grass-burning phaseout is divided over the issue of renegade field burners.
Some committee members, including Spokane County Commissioner Steve Hasson, say farmers who burned Kentucky bluegrass fields last year without permits should be punished.
Others, including state Rep. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, say they should be cut some slack.
State officials shouldn’t expand their 41,000-acre estimate of baseline acreage to count fields burned without permits in violation of the state Clean Air Act, Hasson said Wednesday at the task force meeting in Spokane.
“We shouldn’t reward anybody for anything above 40,000 acres,” he said.
But growers may have been confused about new permit regulations that took effect last year and shouldn’t be punished, Schoesler said.
Ecology Director Mary Riveland’s March 19 emergency rule to douse most field burning over three years was based on an estimate of nearly 41,000 acres burned under permit last year.
But in late May, Columbia Basin growers and seed company representatives on the task force said there are about 16,000 additional acres not accounted for in Ecology’s total.
Officials believe at least some of that acreage has been burned without permits.
If the new total comes to nearly 60,000 acres, a 33 percent cut this year means there will still be nearly 40,000 acres available for burning instead of 28,000, Hasson said.
“Be honorable about this. Otherwise, it’s just a shell game,” Hasson told Ecology officials.
Other committee members clashed on the issue.
“I object to allowing farmers who broke the law to continue to burn,” said Yvonne Bucklin of the American Lung Association of Washington.
A grower said some of the additional 16,000 acres in the Columbia Basin weren’t in seed production last year.
“Every acre in the ground isn’t burned each year,” said Ron Krug of Connell.
Some growers may have been confused in 1995 because it was the first year of a new permit program under the Clean Air Act, said John Cornwall of the Intermountain Grass Growers’ Association.
Despite some problems with the new program, farmers should have known they needed a permit to burn their fields, Ecology’s Grant Pfeifer said.
There’s been a growing discrepancy between bluegrass acreage in production and acres permitted for burning in the Columbia Basin, said Cherie Rogers, a Spokane Plan Commission member.
She’s been researching the trend for the clean-air group Save Our Summers.
“The number of (Columbia Basin) permits hasn’t changed much since 1988, but the number of acres in bluegrass has gone way up,” she said.
That’s not true in Spokane County, where growers have obtained permits to burn each year, records show.
The agency is still deciding what to do about those who broke the law, Pfeifer said.
It’s beyond the committee’s charter to consider penalties for those who burned last year without permits, said Ted Rasmussen, a Latah attorney and grass grower observing the sessions.
He termed the calls to punish growers “vigilantism.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: RIVELAND’S DIRECTIVE Bluegrass field burning will be slashed 30 percent in Washington this year and eliminated altogether by 1998 under a state plan announced March 19. The directive affects 26,405 acres of bluegrass in Spokane County, and an additional 14,500 acres elsewhere in Eastern Washington. In 1997 and 1998, the Department of Ecology will hold public hearings to achieve its final goal of phasing out grass burning. Under the state Clean Air Act, field burning can’t be banned until Ecology approves a no-burn alternative. From staff reports