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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow SMOKE PANEL PRESENTS PLAN

SMOKE PANEL PRESENTS PLAN

GOALS OUTLINED: Union County Smoke Management Committee participant Dale Case of the Wheat Growers Association was among several speakers at Wednesday night's smoke management meeting. He suggested that alternative uses for waste straw are needed and that growers are looking for ways to market straw. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
GOALS OUTLINED: Union County Smoke Management Committee participant Dale Case of the Wheat Growers Association was among several speakers at Wednesday night's smoke management meeting. He suggested that alternative uses for waste straw are needed and that growers are looking for ways to market straw. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A committee studying ways to improve the management of agricultural smoke received kudos for its work during a public meeting Wednesday, but opponents and proponents of field burning appeared as far apart as ever.

Christine Kelly of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that she is encouraged that we are starting a dialogue.

Its not that were trying to drive anybody out of business, she said. Farmers care about peoples health, and the people in town care about the farmers.

Only a few suggestions for major changes from the committees recommendations were voiced during the meeting that attracted about 80 to the La Grande Middle School commons. One came from chiropractor Willard Bertrand, who lives in Union.

Bertrand suggested that the cost of reducing agricultural burning be calculated against the amount of money earned per acre for grass or wheat, and county residents be asked if they are willing to pay a tax or fee to reduce field burning. He said he has figured the individual cost of such a tax at about $13 per year.

Bertrand, who said he sees many patients with breathing problems, said he had calculated the total cost of reducing burning at about $45,000, although he said he did not have exact numbers. He also suggested that Union County could contribute to the funds and other funding sources could be found.

This problem is an abatable problem, Bertrand said. Everybody can participate, but we need hard numbers. We have no cost numbers. We should do this work together to solve the problem.

Some growers in the audience disagreed with Bertrands analysis of burning reduction. Three growers who said they have been living and working in the Grande Ronde Valley for many years discussed the value of the grass seed industry.

Bill Howell, a member of the Grande Ronde Model Watershed board and a farmer, said the Grande Ronde Valley is in better shape today than 50 years ago because of grass seed production and irrigation.

We should look long and hard before we make arbitrary comments as to how to fix it, he said.

Long-time farmer Don Sands agreed with Howell.

Grass seed has changed the soil structure to improve the organic level, he said.

Sands complimented the growers and the committee members, saying, We need to continue to talk. Were doing an excellent job, and were very careful with smoke. The stewards of today are far superior to those in 1900. Theyve done a good job.

Grass seed growers have said that burning helps to reduce the need for herbicides and other chemicals.

La Grande resident Norm Cimon suggested that improving technology may provide some solutions. At present, equipment, such as the nephlometer, measures only the size of dust or smoke particles, but new equipment is coming that will analyze the content of smoke, he said.

It is a huge issue if wheat has been sprayed before it is burned, he said. Once those chemicals are identified, well know.

No physicians attended the meeting, and none participated on the committee. Nurse-practitioner Marguerite Pike of the Union Family Health Clinic participated in committee discussions but did not attend Wednesdays meeting. Linda Densmore, a nurse, is a committee member.

Cimon questioned why more health professionals have not been involved in the discussions.

Weve not seen enough leadership from the health community, he said. We need the health professionals. They may be able to help find a solution.

Committee Chairman Bob Moody said he had asked some physicians to participate but they declined.

They seem reluctant to become involved, he said.

Several in the audience said that a balance between the environment and the economic situation should be found.

Agriculture is under stress, said one person. Grass is the one good thing in this valley. Dont do something to destroy that industry. We need to find a balance.

Others suggested that alternative uses for the waste straw are needed, and Dale Case, a wheat grower and member of the committee, said growers are looking for ways to market straw. He said that several factories that manufactured board from straw have declared bankruptcy. Exporting is expensive, he said, because shipping costs are high.

Darrin Walenta, Oregon State University Extension agent, said that open field burning has declined significantly in the Grande Ronde Valley over the past decade, while propane flaming has increased, and more growers are not burning.

The committee, which has been meeting since early November, has proposed a list of improvements to weather and wind forecasting. The committee has also suggested that volunteer observers located throughout the county be taught how to identify smoke patterns and report problems to the Imbler Smoke Management Center. Brochures suggesting what to

do when smoke is heavy will be prepared.

Several long-term suggestions, including a call-in center, are being considered.

Getting involved: People who want to comment on the committees proposals may write to the Smoke Management Committee, in care of Union County, 1106 K Ave., La Grande 97850. The deadline for comments is May 11. The committee will meet May 14 and propose an amended ordinance to the county commissioners May 16.

 
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