The City of Prineville will receive $10,450 to be spent on outreach and education efforts

PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF PRINEVILLE - A digital sign owned and operated by Crook County Fairgrounds helps remind people to call Crook County Fire and Rescue before doing any outdoor burning. Prineville's air quality committee is considering adding a second sign on North Main Street.

The Prineville air quality committee will soon receive $10,450 to improve public outreach and education regarding the reduction of wood smoke.

City councilors approved an intergovernmental agreement Tuesday night with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, enabling the agency to compensate the city for public awareness programs as well as planning and implementation measures.

City leaders launched an effort three years ago to reduce air particulates in Prineville when they learned that air quality index had exceeded the threshold of 35. Continued air quality above that threshold opened the door for the DEQ to impose penalties that local leaders felt could hamper Prineville industries.

Air quality member and city planning director Josh Smith said the new DEQ agreement and grant award covers a three-year span, but must be renewed annually. While the agreement's statement of work says the local program "shall include, at a minimum, a daily burn/no burn advisory to support its open burning ordinances," and may advertise a weatherization and heating installation and woodstove removal program, Smith said the local air quality committee "can propose almost anything, but it has to be working toward improving air quality."

Councilor Teresa Rodriguez raised concerns about the woodstove removal language, explaining that she doesn't want to approve an agreement that opens the door for DEQ eventually banning the heat source.

"I don't want to start that ball rolling," she remarked.

In response, City Manager Steve Forrester said that he has met with and Crook County Fire Chief Matt Smith and Ochoco Lumber Company President Bruce Daucsavage twice to discuss local woodstove use.

"Our whole premise when we started this (air quality improvement) process was we believe there are other factors that were generating our (higher particulate numbers) that could be worked on, and we proved that to be true," Forrester said.

Prineville's air quality index dropped from 44 in 2014 to 29 in 2015, 24 in 2016 and 31 last year

Efforts that have helped reduce those numbers include a burn/no burn campaign where residents are asked to call a Crook County Fire and Rescue hotline to find out if outdoor burning is approved or prohibited for the day. The decision to allow or restrict burning is based upon a daily analysis of various weather factors by CCFR with the help of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If conditions suggest smoke will easily disperse and not get trapped in the local atmosphere, burning is allowed that day.

Other successful programs include the addition of free yard debris dumping days, which Smith said has dramatically reduced the need for outdoor burning.

"Our goal is to be very practical in terms of protecting that right for the citizenry," Forrester said of woodstove use. He added that if the DEQ began requiring woodstove removal as part of its grant program, "we would elect not to participate or give the council the opportunity to make that call."

Smith said the air quality committee has not yet made any firm plans, but the group is discussing ways to use the grant funding. They include additional free yard debris days, which Smith said have really helped air quality, and the addition of another digital sign on North Main Street near the local chamber of commerce building to better advertise the burn/no burn campaign.

"That was the biggest reason our numbers went down," Smith said of the program.

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