A 4-year-old Post Falls girl won’t bring an end to grass-burning on the Rathdrum Prairie, a federal judge has ruled.
Not yet, anyway.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge tossed out a lawsuit that sought to ban the controversial practice in Kootenai County.
The family of Alexandria Heisel, a Post Falls girl with cystic fibrosis and asthma - conditions aggravated by field smoke - brought the suit.
It claimed Kootenai County should be forced to ban field burning under provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Heisel suffers from a disease and is forced from her home for 45 days a year because of smoke, the suit claimed. Attorney Harvey Richman argued that was a form of discrimination.
Heisel’s parents even yanked her out of her first day of kindergarten this week because of smoke.
“They (farmers) have a right to burn their fields, but doesn’t my daughter have the right to go to school like other kids?” said her father, Jim Heisel.
But Lodge, in a ruling last Friday, said he doesn’t have the authority to force a county to pass an ordinance.
The decision came as a blow to Richman, who also serves as an attorney for the Clean Air Coalition, a group of Panhandle residents hoping to force an end to field burning.
The Heisels are planning an appeal, and Richman said other clients will file similar suits based on other legal arguments.
Some clean air advocates in Sandpoint, where prairie farmers’ smoke often ends up, are even planting no-trespassing signs in their yards. They’ve contemplated challenging grass-burners on those grounds.
“There will be a lot of arrows launched,” Richman said. “One of them will find the mark. We’ll be as creative as we can be.”
In late summer each year, farmers burn the stubble off thousands of acres of blue grass fields. The practice shocks the seeds, helps rid the stubble of pests and disease, and ensures a greater yield during the next season.
The practice sends plumes of smoke in the air. Farmers have been burning since the early 1960s, but population growth has sparked a bitter rift between growers and residents.
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