April 17, 2001 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

After five months of deliberation, discussion and debate, the smoke management committee has finished compiling recommendations and will sponsor a public forum in May.

The forum will take place at 7 p.m. May 2 in the La Grande Middle School Commons.

Committee Chairman Bob Moody said the committee will accept questions and suggestions from members of the audience during the hearing.

The purpose of the hearing is to share what weve done and to get opinions, Moody said at a committee meeting Tuesday.

Some committee members said they were concerned about the type of dialogue that could follow public comments and questions.

I dont want to get into a debate about what weve been talking about, said committee member Michele McLean. There should be no debate about whether this should happen.

Other committee members said that people from the community should feel free to express their opinions during the hearing.

People have got to feel free to say there should be no burning or to say there should be no regulations, said Chris Kelly of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. People have to be able to voice their opinion.

Moody stressed that the committee is not trying to muzzle anybody.

During the hearing, committee members will present several plans to improve smoke management techniques, including improved weather forecasting.

Mark Jacques of the Oregon Department of Forestry told the committee that the state agency is willing to provide weather forecasting services daily during the two-month burning season for $2,000. The growers, through burning fees, will pay for the service. Burning fees also support the countys smoke management center in Imbler.

Other issues to be discussed:

Establishing an education and training program for


Appointing volunteers to observe smoke conditions in various parts of the county.

Improving public information and developing information about precautions that sensitive people should take when smoke is present.

Researching alternatives to field burning by investigating straw markets and promoting direct seeding.

Establishing a central call-in center for smoke management year around.

On Tuesday, Kelly and nurse-practitioner Marguerite Pike explained the effects of air pollution on human lungs and heart.

Pike said that pollution studies have been done in urban areas because rural areas do not have a sufficient population to produce viable results.

Kelly said studies are showing that pollution effects are widespread.

Everybody is at risk, she said. Not just those who already have problems.

The EPA has set a standard for safe air, based on the size of particulate matter contained in the air.

The EPA standard must be based on health, Kelly said.