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Clearing the air

PLATTSBURGH Smoke has been a hot topic lately. Amid rising complaints from some rural residents whose houses fill with the noxious smoke released from burn barrels and outdoor boilers more towns are taking steps to regulate (or, in some instances, outright ban) their use. Even the state is considering legislation that would cut down on backyard-burn related pollution. Bob West, zoning/code enforcement officer for the towns of Chazy and Altona, explained outdoor burning is not currently prohibited by most zoning laws. But you cannot burn plastic or garbage, he emphasized. Thats against everybodys law. Outdoor wood boilers are also allowed, but are regulated by permit. Theyre regulated as far as distance from houses and stack height, he explained. Basically, you cannot create a nuisance. In the town of Beekmantown, the burn barrel/outdoor boiler issue has created a hotbed of controversy, pitting neighbors against neighbors. However, at a recent town meeting, the town council decided to table the issue in favor of waiting for regulations proposed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC agrees residents have a reason to be concerned about the smoky issue. According to their Web site, the disposal of household trash in the inefficient, low-temperature combustion typical of open burning may release excessively high amounts of dangerous toxic pollutants. If the DEC has its way, backyard burning barrels will soon be a thing of the past. Already prohibited in towns with populations greater than 20,000, the DEC has proposed new regulations that will prohibit nearly all open burning statewide. Only barbecues, campfires, ceremonial fires and agricultural uses would still be permitted under the new rules. DEC spokesperson Lori OConnell explained that the proposed regulation is currently in the governors office awaiting regulatory review. Once it is approved, there will be a 30-day public comment period. Although there isnt a timeline at this point, OConnell believes the DEC regulation will go into effect sometime this year. The DEC has also proposed regulations that would establish emission, stack height, and site standards for outdoor boilers. These regulations are in the same stage as the burn barrel regulations. The town of Champlain, however, was not content to wait for the proposed DEC ban. Faced with an increase in grassfires and wildfires, the town enacted its own ban in 2007 that basically prohibits all burning, except by permit. The new process requires residents to obtain a free permit from the town. As part of the process, they must include a diagram of the burn area with any nearby structures and notify fire control. They are also informed they are responsible for the fire. Champlain code enforcement officer Mike Tetreault feels the new regulations are working well, noting there was a marked decrease in fires during the last fire season. He also hasnt had to write any tickets, although he has issued several warnings. Its more of an educational tool, explained Tetreault. People would light a pile of brush and walk away. The fire would get away.

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