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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow PANEL REVIEWS FIELD BURN SEASON


By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Cove and Elgin were hit hardest by smoke from agricultural burns this summer, especially during August, according to a report from Union County's Smoke Management Center.

Probably the greatest smoke impact was felt during the Cove Cherry Festival in mid-August.

Ruth Zemke, secretary for the management center at Imbler, reported Thursday to the smoke management committee that the festival was "an event overlooked by the smoke management personnel."

Zemke asked that organizers of all summer festivals notify the center about upcoming events to avoid having agricultural burns scheduled on festival days. She said that no field burns are scheduled during the Union County Fair.

Complaints from Cove during the week of the Cherry Festival began on Wednesday, Aug. 14, and continued every day, Zemke reported.

"It wasn't until Friday that the Smoke Management Center received an angry complaint from a Cove resident that their event was being impacted by smoke," she said. "After that complaint, propane burns scheduled for Saturday were canceled."

More than 25 complaints were filed by Cove residents from July 30 through Sept. 3.

"We realize we put a lot of smoke into Cove," Zemke said. "Some people called as soon as it began."

Somewhat unusual surface winds blowing from the north-northwest contributed to the smoke level in or near Cove, she said.

"Many of the growers commented that they could not remember a year when the winds had been so frequent from the north-northwest," she said.

Jim Raphael, a Cove resident, volunteered to notify the management center as soon as smoke begins to drift into the Cove area.

"I live above Cove and I can see the smoke coming," he said during Thursday's meeting. "I'd like to see a system of volunteers who can call in to say that we've got smoke headed in this direction. Often you get smoke from one burn, then another and then a third and the smoke accumulates."

A system of volunteers was set up for this burn season, but apparently in some places, the system bogged down.

In other places, such as

La Grande, few complaints were lodged. According to the annual report, only five complaints came from La Grande.

Chris Kelly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency representative in Union County, said, "In the past, we've focused on keeping smoke out of La Grande. We really need to be more conscious of keeping smoke out of other communities.

"When we've got an air quality problem, there should be no burning."

At the Imbler center, Zemke records all burning activity, and she is the person charged with working with Union County communities and residents who complain.

"That's quite a burden to put on one person," said committee member Marguerite Pike. "Maybe that job needs to be spread around."

The grass seed field burning season begins July 15 and ends Sept. 30. Wheat stubble is often ignited, as it was last week, after the official burn season ends.

During the off-season, outdoor burning permits may be requested through the county's phone line, set up to provide information about weather conditions and permits, as well as to accept complaints. The phone number is 963-4040.

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