June 20, 2001 11:00 pm

Field burning is a contentious issue. On one side you have people who dont want smoke added to the air. On the other side you have grass seed and wheat growers whose crops are their livelihoods. And never the tween shall meet, or so it seems.

But over the course of the past eight months the tween has met and tried to bridge the divide between the two sides. Union Countys Smoke Management Committee has been meeting regularly since November and has come up with a plan that it hopes will alleviate some of the issues that developed during last years field burning season. To those who are adamant that a ban is the only answer to the field burning issue, or to those who dismiss complaints about field burning, the committees recommendations wont mean squat. But to those of us who sit in the middle of the debate and can see the concerns of both sides, the committees recommendations reflect a good-faith effort to bring the sides together and come up with some ideas that can help mitigate the conflict that arises when growers ignite their fields.

Although the process was confrontational at times, the people who took part are to be commended for opening a dialogue and looking for ways to find common ground. Bob Moody, the committees chairman, was faced with what seemed like an impossible task in getting the dialogue going. But he did just that.

The results of the committees efforts will be demonstrated when burning season begins July 15. Both sides will be watching.

The committee is proposing amendments to the smoke management ordinance that should reduce the impact of burning on the air while allowing growers the right to continue with what they consider the most effective method of ridding fields of residue. Among the enhancements to the ordinance will be better forecasting, placement and operation of a second instrument that measures particulate in the air, an additional balloon to read weather patterns in Island City, pursuing grant opportunities for more direct seeding, development of health notification information to the community, development of an annual education program for growers regarding rapid fire technologies and other information, development of a year-round call-in center for burn permits, development of a Web site for air quality information, and an annual review of air quality programs involving federal, state and local programs. The committee that developed the plan will reconvene in the fall to review the plan.

To some people these changes probably dont seem like enough; to others they probably seem like too much. But they do amount to an effort to bridge the divide that exists in our community.

As Union County residents we need to find ways to get along and to solve issues confronting us. And thats exactly what the smoke management committee has tried to do. Its recommendations deserve a chance to work.