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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Wood Smoke, Continued

So, what is the wood smoke task force doing? I had some idea of what they would be talking about when we approved its formation (Erik Hjelle offered the motion to authorize the task force, I seconded it, and the council approved it unanimously at our Feb. 25, 2008 meeting). This past Wednesday, Nov. 19th, I went to observe their latest meeting.

The group represents a wide range of opinion, and was trying to establish points of consensus. There was an audience full of people turned out by the false rumors of a ban on wood fires, which the task force was quick to refute. The task force moved ahead to agree on these points:

Education: There was a consensus that the biggest problem is a matter of resident education about existing rules for wood fires, and techniques for more efficient wood burning. Residents may also not be aware of existing programs (such as tax credits) available to help offset the cost of replacing older, less-efficient wood heating appliances with newer ones. For any kind of wood burning, "less efficient" means "more smoke," because wood smoke is the product of incomplete combustion.

Ordinance Clarification: The task force seemed to agree that the current recreational fire ordinance could use clarification. An example point of confusion was the issue of lumber -- either the current ordinance bans things that perhaps should be OK to burn (say, clean and dry pieces of cedar from a demolished deck), or fails to stop the burning of hazardous things (such as treated lumber scrap).

Other Code Updates: There was some discussion about whether the council should recommend adopting EPA ratings standards as a requirement for new installations of wood furnaces. It seemed to me that this may or not be in their final recommendation.

I am grateful to all of the task force members who are willing to volunteer their time to look at these issues and help find common ground for recommendations that can improve the health and happiness of Maplewood's residents.


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