Opinion

Outdoor burning restrictions an abuse of power

By restricting outdoor land-clearing burning without complying with the applicable state law, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has seriously abused its regulatory power over the citizens of Kitsap County.

RCW 70.94.745(6) enables the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to prohibit land-clearing and residential burning in areas outside of the Urban Growth Area (UGA) “...when the agency has determined that an alternate technology or method of disposing of the organic refuse is (a) available, (b) reasonably economical, and (c) less harmful to the environment than burning.”

A debris-hauling alternative to burning exists, but it is expensive and cumbersome.

Evidence presented to the Clean Air Agency shows it may actually cause more harm to the environment than burning.

Despite written comments that included specific data clearly demonstrating the proposed rule-making does not satisfy the RCW criteria noted above, and without responding to the public comments, the agency voted on April 23 to restrict outdoor land-clearing burning in Kitsap County’s rural areas — despite the fact the agency acknowledges there have been no ambient clean air violations related to outdoor burning in the county for a number of years.

In fact, air cleanliness for the whole Puget Sound area has improved 40 percent in the past seven years.

In its justification, the agency developed burning/hauling comparisons for small lots, involving a half-acre or less of clearing.

They assumed free dump sites and costs for burning based on outside contractors doing the work, rather than the owners doing the work themselves, which is the usual practice.

The result showed an approximate break even between burning and hauling — but only for the small lot size selected.

However, costs for clearing larger development sites of five or 10 acres or more require significantly more robust loading equipment and larger capacity trucks for hauling the stumps and other debris – in some cases to the opposite end of the county.

The result is that hauling costs far outweigh burning costs.

By gun-decking the issue with bogus calculations, the agency clearly abused the bounds of its authority, perhaps expecting that no one would notice.

In doing so, the agency appears guilty of pursuing its own private agenda, which is to continually tighten regulatory restrictions, regardless of merit, public input or the controlling RCW.

Indeed, in a public hearing, agency officials acknowledged there is no regional air quality problem.

They candidly admitted the real reason they wanted the ban was because they wanted to cut down the volume of “nuisance” phone calls from neighbors complaining about burning.

They apparently feel no shame in imposing tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs just to avoid answering a few phone calls.

To add insult to injury, after unanimously voting to stop land-clearing burning, agency officials boldly informed Kitsap County that next year they intend to shut down all residential burning in Kitsap.

Think about that. How many residents owning acreage are prepared to pay a contractor to haul away the downed debris and trees from even one good storm?

Downzoning, though painful, once implied stabilized opportunities for ranches, farms, livestock and orchards for large lot owners. But now they’ve become a giant commons for imaginary public benefit where landowners absorb all the costs to fulfill always more difficult and arbitrary public standards.

If you want a job where performance is measured in terms of “How many regulations did you force on the public this month?” the Clean Air Agency might be the place for you.

KARL DUFF

Port Orchard

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