Governor directs general fund programs to become self-sustaining

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

Farmers have until April 30 to comment on a Washington Department of Ecology plan to increase the cost of permits for agricultural burning.

The 2012 Washington State Legislature approved the fee increases during the special session that ended April 11. The new fees would go into effect July 1.

For field burning and spot burning, the fee would increase by $7.50 to $37 for the first 10 acres. For 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 the first 100 tons. Each additional ton would be $1, a 50-cent increase over the current fee.

The proposal isn't final until Ecology responds to public comments, said Paul Rossow, air quality specialist for the department's agricultural and outdoor burn unit. The department director will make a decision to proceed with the change once comments are addressed.

The fee change allows the program to avoid cutbacks, Rossow said. Gov. Chris Gregoire directed programs that previously used general fund dollars, like the burn program, to become self-sustaining.

"It allows farmers to get their burning done and not impact the public," he said. "They're able to continue using that as a practice where needed."

Rossow said demand for agricultural burning varies from year to year. The state averages about 160,000 acres burned in a typical year. The majority of acres are wheat-growing country in Eastern Washington.

Violations of permit conditions or burning without a permit can mean a penalty of up to $10,000 per day per violation. Rossow said penalties typically range between $3,000 and $5,000.

The most common violations are burning outside burn hours, burning at a nonburn time or day or occasionally burning without a permit. Depending on the nature of the violation, the department can issue a warning rather than a fine, he said. But because the program has been around for a decade, most instances usually result in a fine.

"Most of the farmers out there are aware of the requirements," he said. "We don't run into many violations."

The department averages roughly five agricultural burning violations in a typical year, Rossow said.

Everyone receiving agricultural burn permits received notice of the public comment period, Rossow said.

How to comment

The Washington Department of Ecology hosts public hearings on agricultural burning fee increases at:

* 6:30 p.m. April 24 at the USDA Service Center, 325 N. 13th St., in Walla Walla, Wash.

* 6:30 p.m. April 26 at its central regional office at 15 W. Yakima Ave., in Yakima, Wash.

Written comments on the proposed fee increase can be e-mailed to paro461@ecy.wa.gov until 5 p.m. April 30. Comments can be mailed to Paul Rossow, Department of Ecology, 4601 N. Monroe St., Spokane, WA 99205-1295.

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