Columbia County farm fined $10,000 after burning stubble

August 6, 2013 

— A Columbia County farm has been fined $10,000 by the Washington State Department of Ecology for allegedly burning wheat stubble without an approved agricultural burning permit.

Servi Dei Farms has 30 days to appeal the penalty to the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board. Phillip Klein, owner of Servi Dei Farms, burned a field of about 300 acres of wheat stubble before the required agricultural field burn permit had been issued in 2012, according to the state.

Klein applied for the permit, saying agricultural burning was the only reasonable means to reduce crop residue in his fields before fall planting. But Klein had already burned his fields before the need to burn was verified, a permit was issued and a burn day was assigned, according to the state. In Columbia County, the state delegates authority to issue agricultural burn permits to the county commissioners and the Columbia Conservation District. Under state law, all agricultural burning must be approved so officials can determine whether the burning is necessary and whether safer alternatives are reasonably available.

After a burn permit is issued and paid for, the state determines which farmers can burn on a given day, depending on the direction of the wind, the ability for the smoke to disperse, and how many other people are legally burning that day.

The procedures are intended to protect people from ground-level smoke. Burning agricultural residue creates smoke with small particles that can enter the lungs, causing chemical and structural damage.

Sometimes toxic materials “hitchhike” onto the particles and enter the lungs, causing even more health problems, according to the state.

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