April 29, 2001 11:00 pm

Clearing smoke from the Grande Ronde Valley during the summer may be an impossible task, but a Union County committee has developed ideas that may reduce some impacts.

The committee, appointed last fall by the county commissioners, will present suggestions for improving weather forecasts and making other changes. The public forum begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the La Grande Middle School commons. A question-and-answer session will follow.

Committee members will report on

proposed improvements in weather and wind forecasting,

additional education and training for agricultural burning,

a public information program,

alternatives to field burning,

a central year-around call-in center, and

changes in the countys smoke management ordinance.

Health issues will not be discussed. If there are enough requests, though, another forum on health matters will be scheduled.

The committee is proposing a public information campaign at the beginning of the summer field-burning season. Among the information shared would be precautions that people with health problems should take.

Under the committees proposal, the county commissioners will appoint representatives to watch the smoke dispersal from field burns and report to the smoke management center at Imbler on smoke patterns.

The countys smoke management program is supported by fees assessed growers. Grass seed and wheat growers are beginning research into markets for straw and into direct seeding.

Initially, the committee is preparing minor modifications to the existing ordinance ahead of the summer burning season. Working groups will continue to examine long-term changes, especially the establishment of a year-around program for smoke management.