“Is this the first step in the woodsmoke mitigation plan I’ve heard about?”
I’d seen a tweet from Washington County that pointed to a Wood Stove Exchange Program that’s just getting started in Washington County.
“Actually, it’s step #3,” said Matt Davis, Senior Project Coordinator, Washington County Department of Health & Human Services. “We started with education and burn ban ordinances last year.”
He went on to inform me of their educational outreach which includes the typical Burn Wise practices, e.g. use only dry wood. People could sign up for Public Alerts, the kind of advisory messages that warn of poor air quality events when no one should burn. They’d be setup at a table at a Farmers Market and talk to anyone who would listen. In Aloha and Reedville they received 500 responses which broke down into approximately 40% against burn bans, 50% in favor and the rest undecided.
When it comes to the new ordinances, it’s burning yard debris that’s the most contentious issue – it’s a long standing practice, part of the rural ethos, a cultural aspect of life in unincorporated Washington County.
One of the hurdles of this multi-pronged effort is where to draw the line – where does rural begin? There are many large 3-4 acre parcels that feel most impacted. If they’re growing fruit trees then the resulting pruning will generate quite a pile that historically, simply got lit with a match. Today these households are encouraged to pack the debris off to a landfill. Someday that will be the only option, but today people can apply for a hardship waiver.
Of the 12 cities in the county, the new program with its burn ban rules affects unincorporated areas, still that’s 50% of the population. Hillsboro (pop 100,000) and much smaller Cornelius (5,000) currently contribute much of the woodsmoke pollution. Beaverton has been constrained by a 1980 boundary set by DEQ that abolished yard debris burning, but the boundary was never expanded to cover new fast growing communities to the west.
So now it’s time for the incentives, the Wood Stove Exchange Program where a rebate of up to $3,500 will offset the cost of most conversions to cleaner burning alternatives, like natural gas.
As he worked on this plan, I asked where were the jurisdictions he used as models? It turns out Phoenix’s Maricopa County is advancing their regulatory oversight, but closer to home it’s Klamath County that has some of the most experience – that’s because they have such a problem with woodsmoke and meeting EPA clean air standards.
I asked Matt, “Where in the whole country would you move to get away from woodsmoke?”
“Until I heard from you, I would’ve said Southern California.” Matt confirmed my fears – there’s no place you can go to avoid wood burning and its adverse health effects. Washington County is moving in the right direction, but programs like theirs can take generations to make a difference.