By Katy Penland and Patric Hedlund
BAKERSFIELD (Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008 2:00 p.m.)—Four Mountain Community citizens were surprised today to see that their "No to No-Burn Day" petitions have had an immediate impact on the governing board of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD).
Mountain residents rose to speak at noon as the agenda item on the wood-burning ban came up at the air pollution control board’s December meeting. Brian Bierman of Pinon Pines said 1,534 signatures had been collected in four days from mountain residents concerned about the financial burden and health risks of not being able to burn wood to stay warm. Chuck Woerner of Frazier Park presented data about east-west wind currents in our region which appeared to invalidate the notion that wood smoke in Frazier Park is contributing to Bakersfield pollution problems.
Led by Kern County Supervisor Ray Watson and air district Executive Director Seyed Sadredin, boardmembers voted 8-2 to direct SJVAPCD staff to establish the Frazier Mountain region as a separate air control area and to conduct a study to determine whether there is a scientific justification for "No-Burn Day" bans on the mountain. The current no-burn alerts are triggered by poor air quality in Bakersfield during the winter when there is an inversion layer in the valley.
Prior to October 16, 2008 there was an exemption for mountain areas above 3,000 feet, but in a 5-4 vote (with virtually no advance warning to the public) the board removed that exemption for all mountain regions within its jurisdiction. Watson cast the deciding vote in that October meeting. Other mountain areas within the San Joaquin Valley district have a north-south alignment. The supervisor said in an interview Monday, Dec. 15 that he had not considered the implications of the east-west alignment of this region. He said he also felt the petition made a good point regardng the economic hardships posed by the sudden ban on wood burning when families had saved all year to buy their wood for the winter.
The Mountain Enterprise and three Bakersfield TV stations were at the meeting today to interview the mountain residents.In addition to Chuck Woerner, Sondra Woerner and Brian Bierman, Charles Ahnfeldt (who sells firewood) and Frank Williams attended. The meeting was teleconferenced to the Bakersfield office of SJVAPCD. The board itself met at the agency’s headquarters in Fresno.
Sadredin said "The board has directed the staff to build analytical models and forecasts for Frazier Park recognizing that Frazier Park is unique in that it is the only region in the valley that is above 3,000 feet that has natural gas." Ray Watson said, "…There is natural gas but it doesn’t meet the needs of low income and retired people in the area." He also mentioned the east-west orientation of the region and said he didn’t want a study to delay the decision about what is an appropriate rule for the area.
The Mountain Enterprise will provide an additional update shortly regarding the status of the Frazier Mountain region while the study is being conducted.
UPDATE 4:30 p.m.: At 4:20 p.m. SJVAPCD spokesperson Brenda Turner said, "We have no direction as to a change in enforcement at this time. I left a message for the director to call me back about that."
Turner said there has been an inspector on the mountain checking to see if there is "smoke coming from chimneys" on no-burn days. "There have been 23 no-burn days since the season started November 1," Turner said, acknowledging that temperatures had fallen to as low as five degrees in the Frazier Mountain region during the recent snows and that Frazier Park homeowners often use wood burning stoves "to take the chill off" even when they have natural gas heating.
"Three or four citations" have been written to Frazier Mountain residents since November 1, Turner reports, adding, "There is a $50 fine, or it can be contested. One can also attend an online ‘fire place school’ to waive the fine." Those who do not have natural gas in their homes can fill out an exemption form if they receive a citation.
Several Frazier Park and Lake of the Wood residents were heard vowing to ignore the no-burn rule as they signed the "No to No-Burn Days" petition last week.
Turner said she did not expect a no-burn day to be called for the remainder of this week or through Christmas.
This is part of the December 12, 2008 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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