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City Fined For Pollution After Ice Storm Despite Freak Storm, Long-Term Burning Of Wet Wood Violated Clean Air Act, State Says

(From For the Record, September 26, 1997:) Headline wrong: State regulators have not fined the Spokane garbage incinerator for air pollution violations. A headline on a story Wednesday about the state’s violation notice was incorrect.

Spokane officials violated the Clean Air Act when they burned wet wood and coal in the city’s garbage plant after last year’s ice storm, according to Washington state regulators.

Those efforts caused carbon monoxide levels to soar, exceeding limits set in the plant’s air pollution permit, says the state Department of Ecology.

Ecology delivered a formal violation notice to city officials on Monday.

That triggers a 30-day period to discuss possible fines, which could exceed $100,000 if the state wants to get tough.

The Clean Air Act calls for fines up to $10,000 per day per violation for each of the plant’s two burners. The carbon monoxide limits were exceeded at one or both burners on Nov. 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28 and 30.

Spokane solid waste officials aren’t happy with Ecology’s decision. They think they deserve some slack because they were trying to deal with a mountain of ice-coated debris after the Nov. 19 storm.

They’ve also been highly critical of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority for asking the state to step in to resolve the air pollution dispute.

“I don’t agree a violation occurred,” said Phil Williams, Spokane’s engineering director.

“We are not above the law, but the law has exceptions for upset conditions. If the ice storm wasn’t an upset, what is?” Williams said.

Ecology officials think they’re justified in fining the city because of the length and severity of the air quality violations - and because city officials didn’t report them promptly to air quality cops.

“I understand the mitigating circumstances, having lived through the ice storm. But it’s our belief that the (air pollution) permit conditions were violated,” said Grant Pfeifer, Ecology’s top regional air quality official.

Damon Taam, the city’s solid waste system manager, has told the City Council he plans to appeal Ecology’s action.

“What we were going through was extraordinary. We allowed this town to clean itself up,” Taam said Tuesday.

Ecology’s action came after SCAPCA asked the state to investigate the circumstances surrounding the carbon monoxide violations.

The plant’s air pollution permit restricts carbon monoxide emissions to 100 parts per million over 24 hours. The plant also can’t exceed a 100 ppm limit over eight hours for more than 5 percent of the incinerator’s monthly operations.

On several days in November, the plant’s two burners exceeded both limits.

Incinerator No. 1 exceeded the eight-hour limit for 7.6 percent of its operating time in November, and Unit No. 2 during 12.3 percent of its operations, Ecology said.

The plant’s operating permit also restricts the fuel used in the facility to natural gas - and does not allow coal.

On Nov. 25, plant operators added 200 tons of coal in an effort to get the wet wood from the storm to burn. That effort failed, and the carbon monoxide violations continued.

The coal wasn’t completely burned until Dec. 2, Ecology said.

, DataTimes

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