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Public comment sought on permit fee changes for farm burning

The public has an opportunity to submit comments on a proposed change in the cost of getting a burn permit for agricultural burning in Washington state.

The state Department of Ecology is proposing the change that was determined by the Agricultural Burning Practices and Research Task Force, which was formed in the early 1990s to direct funding for research into alternatives to field burning and develop best management practices.

The 2012 legislature approved the fee increase during the special session that ended April 11.

The new fees would go into effect July 1 of this year.

For field burning and spot burning, the fee would increase by $7.50, to $37 for the first 10 acres. In the case of field burning, each additional acre will cost $3.75, up from $3. For burning piles, the fee would be $80 for the first 80 tons instead of for the first 100 tons. Each additional ton would be $1, which is up 50 cents from the current fee.

Ecology officials will accept written comments on the proposed fee increase by email to paro461@ecy.wa.gov until 5 p.m., April 30, 2012.

To submit written, hard copy comments, letters should be sent to Paul Rossow, Department of Ecology, 4601 N. Monroe St., Spokane, WA 99205-1295.

On April 24 and April 26, Ecology officials will host public hearings and workshops to explain the proposed changes to the permit fees and provide an opportunity for citizens to give formal oral testimony on the proposed permit fees.

One hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m., this coming Thursday, April 26, at Ecology's Central Regional Office, 15 W. Yakima Ave. in Yakima.

"The fee is increasing because Ecology's agricultural burn program is required to pay for itself, and it hasn't been self-sustaining in the past," said Kary Peterson, who manages the program. "The increase will allow us to continue the permitting and the job of managing the smoke."

The smoke management program includes announcing daily decisions about whether it is okay for burn permit holders to burn that day, based on meteorological information. The agricultural burn team in Ecology's Spokane office determines whether the smoke will disperse adequately or not and in what direction it will travel.

"This way the 'air shed' won't become overwhelmed at any time, and it allows farmers to continue to use burning as a tool, without harming public health," Peterson said.

After the Department of Ecology receives and considers all public comments, it will issue the final fee schedule and a response to comments.

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