As of Wednesday, January 8, 2014
GRANGER - For the second time in less than a week a crowd of Yakima Valley residents unanimously sided against a proposal to prohibit manure applications during burn bans. That's the result of a public meeting the Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority held in Granger last night, Tuesday. The prohibition rule proposal would apply to not only spraying manure during burn bans, but other applications such as injecting it into the soil. Dave Caprile is the clean air authority's spokesman and presided over last night's meeting. He said a group of 50 Yakima County residents backed by an attorney petitioned the agency to come up with a rule to address manure application during times of burn bans. He said the agency is bound by law to explore all petitions presented to it, whether it's from 50 people or one person. The goal last night was to get public input into the rule-making process for the agency's board to consider at its Aug. 8 meeting. Only four of the 50 petitioners were in attendance last night, and none spoke in favor of their petition. Last Wednesday, the Yakima County clean air agency held a similar public forum in Union Gap and that audience, too, was unanimously against a manure application ban. Last night's crowd in Granger was made up mostly of dairy and farming representatives. Their concerns expressed last night focused on what they perceived as a lack of scientific evidence showing the harm of manure spraying. But their ire was especially directed at the idea of manure applications during the same time as burn bans. The issue was front and center because earlier yesterday the clean air authority proclaimed a burn ban in Yakima County due to smoke from other fires in the region. Steve George with the Yakima County Farm Bureau called the proposal "a huge deterrent to agricultural practices." He claimed it would not ban manure application for just "30 to 50 days during the winter time," but has the potential to impact farming here year-round, such as during the burn ban placed yesterday. Gary Pruitt is the clean air authority's executive director, and he says the agency is forming an ag task force to address issues. He also called on help from the public and farming interests to share areas where there are trouble spots in the county with lack of compliance to rules already in place. Pruitt noted, too, that a rule requiring dairies to follow best practices was recently adopted. At the same time, he expressed frustration last night none of the petitioners stepped up on behalf of their rule proposal. "If we don't write a rule what are we doing here?" he said. "If a petition is no longer warranted, I'd appreciate it be withdrawn." Jim Dyjak of Moxee is one of the petitioners. He says he kept quiet last night because the Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority is trying scare tactics so it doesn't have to write a rule. Dyjak says he and other petitioners have talked to farmers who expressed an interest in working together. He says the aim isn't to hurt the area's ag industry. "There's not a person who wants to shut down farming." Further, he states the intention was never to ban manure spraying during the summer. Rather, the focus is on winter months when the valley is impacted by inversions - and when farms aren't growing crops. Also, Dyjak says the idea is to target large manure applications during winter burn bans, not the small farmer cleaning out his barn. The bottom line, he contends, is not only about air quality but also fairness. "If it's illegal for a poor family to burn to stretch their heating budget, then why is it okay for the farmer to spray manure?" Dyjak notes the petition was only to initiate a rule-making process. Later, it would be up to the clean air agency to create the rule and provisos such as only applying it to winter burn bans. He contends Pruitt has refused to meet with him and others to discuss their goals for the petition. Pruitt counters his door is always open to the public. Petitioners will present their case directly to the board during the Aug. 8 meeting, says Dyjak. If clean air's board opts to continue the rule-making discussion, a final rule on prohibiting manure application during burn bans would take effect on Nov. 14 at the earliest.