by Bruce A. Smith
From sublime celestial wonders to grinding mundane issues like clean air, heat and enough food to eat have filled the lives of Mountain Country residents this week.
To begin, a total lunar eclipse occurred last Saturday that was viewed only by hearty souls willing to awaken at the crack of dawn, as the eclipse occurred as the moon was setting over the western horizon – a rare event for a lunar eclipse.
Then, the Stage 2 Burn Ban was lifted as many groused about soaring energy bills to pay for the heat that had often been supplied by wood stoves. Yet, as soon as it was removed due to the arrival of Wednesday’s rain, a fog and cloud weather combination occurred to trap enormous amounts of wood smoke – certainly in the Eatonville area – that was chokingly blatant.
Even with the Burn Ban lifted – regardless of whether it is a Stage 1 or 2 – no smoke should be visible from a chimney twenty minutes after starting a fire. As a result, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has sent out a press release describing strategies for enforcing your rights as you try to live with neighbors who have different needs. It will be posted at the end of this article.
Best bet is to work it out between neioghbors. To that end, The Mountain News will be organizing a forum on clean air and the twin nemises of breathing comfortably – wood smoke and diesel exhaust in the new year. Details will be forthcoming.
In the meantime, public concern over air quality is growing, and Mountain News columnist, Judy Spiers, made the following observation:
“Bruce, I know you don’t have TV so I’ll share with you that we saw a segment on TV last night about air quality control. It said that Pierce County has one of the severest problems in the country – which is attributable mainly to wood burning stoves. In the interview, it was explained that the level one warning, all use of uncertified wood stoves and fireplaces (is prohibited). At level two, the use of certified wood stoves and fireplaces must be suspended – unless one of these is a home’s only heat source.
“Mark (Judy’s husband) and I looked into buying a wood stove a couple years ago. The stores sell one type that burns so efficiently that it emits no particulates in the air. We were told that this type is safe to use under all warning types. The problem was that this type was the most expensive. Of course, we settled for having our home really well insulated and getting a propane gas heater for emergencies, which works perfectly for us. But it was heartening to know that there is a wood stove that burns that cleanly.
“On another note, I heard on the radio last week that in Denmark a good percentage of their energy comes from wind mills. The problem is that during the night, when consumption is down, the unused energy goes to waste. So the government decided to buy a million electric cars. Owners plug these in during the nighttime to capture excess energy. It’s a pretty intelligent concept.”
Lastly, members of the Bethel School District spoke at multiple occasions this week to describe the plight of Bethel students.
BSD Superintendent Tom Seigel told the Graham Business Association on Wednesday morning that 48% of its total student body now receive free or reduced lunches – a figure that has risen in the past several years as the economy struggles from about 25-35% .
Later, Jay Brower, BSD’s director of community relations, traveled to an awards ceremony for volunteers at the Graham-Kapowsin Community Council’s HQ in Portable 5 at Graham Elementary School, and Brower stated the disturbing news very plainly:
“Half of Bethel’s kids live in poverty,” he told those assembled at the G-KCC celebration. “When they’re hungry – that makes it tough to learn.”
Many of the volunteers already knew these dire facts, and the G-KCC launched a new program in 2011 to feed these hungry kids on weekends and holidays – when they don’t have access to the district’s food program.
Addressing the issue head-on, G-KCC volunteer Vera Fair was touted for harvesting nearly 1,000 pounds of rhubarb from Eatonville farmer Bruce Lachney’s fields, which was sold to raise over $1,400 that was then used to purchase peanut butter, Vienna sausages and tuna fish for the G-KCC’s “Feed the Children” weekend program. These foods were supplemented by other food stuffs, such as ramen and dried soups that were procured from stockpiles gathered by the BSD and Boys and Girls Clubs of Puget Sound, and the foods were placed into G-KCC’s knap-sacks and distributed at North Star, Roy and Kapowsin Elementary Schools.
Everyone at the meeting acknowledged that the task is a hefty job and more food and volunteers are needed. In addition, major glitches exist beyond labor and food.
“There are so many kids we can’t reach because of transportation problems – the kids just can’t get to the schools on the long holidays or the summer vacation,” said Carol Wright, executive director of the G-KCC.
Wright said that the back-packs, supplied by Fred Meyer, are prepared on Friday and if they come back empty on Monday they are re-filled for another week.
All told, the G-KCC volunteers provided over 1,000 hours of service.
“It’s been estimated that each volunteer hour is worth twenty-one dollars in the marketplace,” said Carol. “So that means these volunteers have given over $20,000 worth of service to the community.”
Expanding from these initial efforts, Jay Brower also announced that a mobile FISH Food Bank semi-trailer truck will begin regular visits to the western Graham area in January.
Beginning on Wednesday, January 11, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm, this mobile food bank will be stationed at Bethel High School on 38th St, just north of 224th. Folks needing food will be able to walk through the trailer and obtain the exact goods they need, unlike other food banks which pack bags in a pre-determined manner, which means that recipients are given foods that they may not be able to use.
For more information on this service, call (253) 383-3164.
This mobile unit will expand food bank capacities already in place in Spanaway and at Holy Disciples Catholic Church in Graham. In addition, food bank supplies are available in Eatonville, Monday-Friday in a variety of locations.
Over 147,000 residents in Pierce County receive federal food stamps or utilize these food banks.
What to do if bothered by air pollution
The following has been offered by Amy Warren of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency:
“If you and/or others feel comfortable, it is often best and most effective to politely inform wood burners that a burn ban is in effect (they must not have heard!) and that their smoke is both in violation of the burn ban but also impacting the health of neighbors in the community. Sometimes that works. Sometimes folks aren’t comfortable having that conversation or burners aren’t open to hearing it.
During a burn ban, our complaint process is simplified. To report a burn ban violation, e-mail our inspectors at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include the street address and the ZIP code of the violation to help us prioritize our enforcement activity. Those without computer access can phone our air quality complaint line: (800) 552-3565, ext. 6, and leave the same information.
But I caution that our inspection staff are stretched and focus on the areas with both the worst air quality and the most complaints.
If there is OUTDOOR burning going on during a burn ban, report this to your local fire district and they should respond and require the fire be put out. They can then determine if a violation is in order and can refer that to our agency for a fine. Fines for illegal fires typically start at $2,000 plus the cost to reimburse the fire department for its response efforts.
Our wood smoke (chimney smoke) complaint process is more formalized when a there is NOT a burn ban:
© 2011 The Mountain News – WA