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Oakridge continues cleaning up woodstove smoke pollution

Lane County and Oakridge-area officials hope to add another tool soon in the fight against woodstove smoke pollution. (SBG photo)

OAKRIDGE, Ore. -- Lane County and Oakridge-area officials hope to add another tool soon in the fight against woodstove smoke pollution.

The latest plan involves the area's main air protection agency and a new ordinance for dealing with a decades-old problem.

Late fall and wintertime smoke from woodstoves has choked the Oakridge area, but the air is getting cleaner and officials hope to keep that trend going.

“The city, as you know, is under pressure to meet the federal air quality health standards,” says Lane Regional Air Protection Agency director Merlyn Hough.

Thanks to topography and air inversion layers, too often the smoke has nowhere to go.

“On those worst winter days, home wood heating causes smoke levels to build up within the valleys,” explains Hough.

Recent years have seen progress to clean up the air with grant programs to replace the old technology woodstoves.

Now comes a new push to have a county agency expand its authority to enforce clean air rules in areas just outside the Oakridge city limits.

“How do we fix that problem? Well, we're trying to do it without being too over-stepping,” says Oakridge Mayor Jim Coey.

If passed by county commissioners, air quality rules and those "red" enforcement days from LRAPA would apply to homes outside the Oakridge city limits, but inside the urban growth boundary.

There is a silver lining; Mayor Coey says the Oakridge area is right on the cusp of actually meeting those stricter federal air standards.

“It would be nice to get through this year with no red days,” says Coey.

For area officials, meeting the federal air standards without being heavy-handed becomes a win-win.

The ordinance goes to a second reading and a full public hearing at the Lane County commissioners in two weeks.

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