Agricultural burn generates complaints

By Hank Lohmeyer


County commission chairman Doug Atchley said on Monday that he has asked the county and state health departments to provide statements on a situation at Eckert where smoke from an allowed open burn operation is impacting residents of Horizons West Mobile Home Park and Horizons Care Center.

The Board of County Commissioners heard a presentation at its meeting on Monday from Deann Thomas, a retired physical therapist who lives at Horizons West. She said smoke from the burn operation just to the north is causing health issues for residents of the park and neighboring care center.

She said that it is a "smoke sensitive area" as residents deal every day with COPD and other respiratory ailments made worse by the smoke. The smoke is coming from piles of mature Chinese elm and Russian olive that over the past two summers have been cut from a large acreage and gathered into piles for burning. The piles include trees up to 15 inches in diameter, she said.

Thomas cited regulations that limit or prohibit burning of such materials, which she called "slash piles," particularly near smoke sensitive communities like the Horizons complex.

Smoke has not been the only environmental or health problem caused by the operation. Noise and dust from the clearing operation have also been among complaints from residents, who have had to close doors and windows and avoid use of swamp coolers to keep smoke from entering their homes.

Thomas and several of her neighbors also presented their complaints to the Orchard City Town Board last week.

Thomas told the DCI that she notified the state health department of the situation. She said she was told the burning is considered agricultural and that no air quality permit is required for the operation. The county health department verified that determination had been made by the state health officials.