April 30, 2001 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

NORTH POWDER Only weeks after contesting a $13,285 fine levied by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for burning non-allowed waste material at its transfer site, North Powder was again fined Monday this time $10,320 for a repeat of the same offense.

The DEQ claims that in September, and again sometime between November 12 and 14, North Powders solid waste transfer station permit was violated when garbage, treated wood products and other materials put in the land clearing debris pile was burned.

The city office in North Powder acknowledged this morning that it had received, by certified mail, notice of the second penalty Monday.

Mayor Carrie Crook, who works in Baker City, was not available for comment this


Bruce Kaufman, mayor pro tem in North Powder when the violations allegedly occurred and a current city council member, said this morning that the city has little choice but to appeal the more recent fine.

The city, with a population of 490, has an annual budget of about $229,000.

After the first fine, North Powder appealed the penalty and a hearing was held on the matter before an administrative judge April 10. The ruling from that hearing is still pending, said Lissa Druback, solid waste manager for the DEQ, based in The Dalles.

Druback said that after the first violation of the solid waste permit was logged in September, inspectors for the DEQ increased the number of times they checked the North Powder transfer site.

Usually, Druback explained, all solid waste permit holders receive at least annual inspections. Where problems are found, the number of inspections may increase to one every three or four months.

In this case, we had a compliance schedule set up from the previous violation, she said.

Weve been trying to work with the city, and provide technical assistance, Druback added.

But a city such as North Powder often doesnt have the resources to monitor their site, not to check the burn pile thoroughly for added material before burning.

Kaufman said the transfer station is open four hours per day on Saturday. The city pays a person minimum wage to operate the station, but turnover in the position has been so high that the employee in charge usually isnt well-versed in the permits details, Kaufman said.

The North Powder transfer station opened in 1979 after the citys landfill was closed because of increasing long-term operating costs and concerns over liability associated with potential ground and surface water contamination.

In that original permit, open burning of land clearing debris, such as brush, stumps and tree limbs, was permitted. The open burning, however, was banned in August 2000 after the city repeatedly allowed prohibited materials, including shingles, plastic, and painted wood to be included in its land clearing debris burn pile, Druback said.

They are not allowed to burn now, she added.

Over a period of more than a year covering parts of 1999 and 2000, said Julia Austin, a natural resources specialist for the DEQ in Pendleton, the department sent North Powder six notices of non-compliance and 12 memos, and made two presentations to the City Council on ways to avoid violations.

The city has 20 days to appeal this second fine. DEQ hasnt received word what will happen, and the city council doesnt meet again until Monday evening.

Druback added that the DEQ does understand that county residents from both Union and Baker counties are also using the transfer site, as well as North Powder residents, but that the city is the permit holder of record.

The fact that the November incident was a repeat incident, the cooperativeness of the city, and how much and what was burned play into the fine determination, she said.

Because of air quality and health concerns throughout Oregon, the DEQ takes prohibited burning quite seriously, Druback concluded. We have to fine for enforcement.