Friday, Sept. 7, is the final day to submit comments to the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District before the district’s board votes on an air-quality control plan targeted specifically at smoke pollution from outdoor yard waste burns in the San Lorenzo Valley.
At its Wednesday, Sept. 19 meeting, district directors are scheduled to vote on a plan -- developed by district staff -- to tighten regulations on backyard yard waste burns throughout Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties. The strictest regulations will target the San Lorenzo Valley.
Across the district, the plan revises regulations for outdoor burning under District Rule 438.
Upon approval, the rule would:
- Require district-issued smoke management permits for all backyard waste fires.
- Change the dates of the burning season -— currently Dec. 1 to April 30 — by adding 15 days to either end, resulting in a Nov. 15 to May 15 burn season.
- Require all fires to be a minimum of 100 feet away from a structure on an adjacent property, with waivers possible following a site inspection.
- Make it illegal to burn on a parcel smaller than a half-acre, except for areas not served by, or inaccessible to, waste pickup services. Waivers would also be possible following a site inspection.
Stricter for SLV
For the San Lorenzo Valley, however, the rules would be more stringent.
The valley’s air quality has been in the district’s spotlight over much of the past year -- district officials talked with the Press-Banner in February of health concerns stemming from the concentration of woodstove-heated homes, slow air currents and bowl-like topography that traps smoky air in the valley.
Following years of complaints about smoke, the district began an intensive study on the air quality in the San Lorenzo Valley in November 2011, setting up three monitoring stations to determine the smoke particulate levels.
Monitoring stations were set up at the Cal Fire station in Felton, at San Lorenzo Valley Elementary School, also in Felton, and at the Ben Lomond fire station.
The ensuing data revealed potentially dangerous levels of smoke particulate in the air that could lead to health hazards — especially during the winter months, according to county Supervisor Mark Stone.
“I think the data shows that something needs to be done in the valley,” said Stone, whose district includes the San Lorenzo Valley. “The (data gathered) on the particulate matter was pretty alarming.”
According to Supervising Air Quality Planner Amy Clymo, the new rule would designate the San Lorenzo Valley as a Smoke Sensitive Area, allowing for region-specific changes to the district’s rules.
“Something needs to be done,” Stone said. “One of the areas where the particulate matter was extremely high was at the schools.”
Under the new rules, residents in the San Lorenzo Valley would not be allowed to burn yard waste under any circumstances on parcels smaller than one acre.
Also, no more than two waste fires in each of the Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, Felton, and Zayante fire districts, and areas covered by Cal Fire, would be allowed each day, Clymo said.
“We’re proposing to only allow two burns per day, per fire district,” she said. “That’s 10 total per day — it’s just broken up by fire district.”
Limiting the number of daily fires was one of the reasons to extend the district-wide burn season, so people could find a time to do their burning, Clymo said.
The permits required for burning would be free for the first year, up to July 21, 2013.
After that, “there might be a fee imposed,” Clymo said.
Enforcing the law
Enforcement of the potential new rules would be determined once the board’s and public’s concerns and ideas are taken fully into consideration, said Teresa Sewell, a compliance division supervisor at the air pollution control district.
“A lot of that is going to be discussed after the board votes,” she said. “We haven’t finalized the direction (of enforcement).”
Sewell said that the intent is to have an increased enforcement presence that would be based on outreach. She stressed that no plans have yet been finalized.
“It’s really based on our outreach and how much outreach we’ve done,” she said. “Once we get a better understanding of the board, then we’ll make a decision.”
According to Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer Mike Gilroy, the district would step up enforcement in the San Lorenzo Valley. But need-to-comply notices would more likely than tickets for illegal burns during the initial weeks of the new rules, he said, suggesting some grace period would be allowed.
“I think the important thing is that we’re working hard to communicate the changes that are being made,” he said. “We would try to determine if (the homeowners) were aware of the changes.”
Gilroy said that district officials have already been to three community events in the San Lorenzo Valley to raise awareness about the smoke hazards. He said the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“There seems to be a critical mass of people that want to see these changes take place,” he said.
Gilroy added that the district is working with Santa Cruz County to bring back the free green waste disposal service at the Ben Lomond Transfer Station to provide residents with an alternative to burning.
“We’re working out the details of that right now,” he said, adding that he hoped to have the program in place by October or November.
The public hearing regarding the new rules is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the board’s chambers at 24580 Silver Cloud Court in Monterey.
Stone encouraged residents to make themselves aware of the upcoming changes and to voice concerns to the district.
“We generally have very good air quality in Santa Cruz County,” Stone said. “(The San Lorenzo Valley) is the one area that’s been a challenge.”
For information: 647-9411 or www.mbuapcd.org.