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Town breathes easier


Health concerns lead Copake to regulate outdoor wood boilers

COPAKE–The Town Board has unanimously enacted a new local law regulating outdoor wood boilers.

The measure was adopted at the board’s monthly meeting last Thursday, February 11, but not before it took some heat during a public hearing that preceded the meeting.

The language of the new law says the legislation is “to protect the public from the detrimental effects that pollutants produced by outdoor wood boilers cause” and the law cites “the need to secure and promote the public health, comfort, convenience, safety, welfare and prosperity of its residents by establishing and imposing restrictions upon the construction, installation and operation of outdoor wood boilers.”

The law says that “wood burning devices emit particulate matter, carbon monoxide and other pollutants known to be detrimental to the health of the public.”

In addition to a long list of respiratory health issues, which include cancer, asthma, heart and lung disease, caused by the smoke and fumes from outdoor wood boilers, the devices also deprive neighbors from “the enjoyment of their property,” according to the law.

An increasing number of municipalities around the county are taking up the outdoor wood boiler issue. In December, the Village of Kinderhook passed a law that prohibits the installation of any new outdoor wood boiler and regulates the two in existence. The Town of Kinderhook has a moratorium in place on the installation of outdoor wood boilers while a law regulating them is formulated. The towns of Stockport and Austerlitz recently began discussion of outdoor wood boiler laws.

Under Copake’s new law, people who already operate outdoor wood boilers (OWBs) may continue to use the devices as long as they apply for a permit from the building inspector within 90 days of the time the law takes effect. If they don’t apply for the permit, “the OWB shall be removed.” Existing OWBs that are not used for two years will no longer be classified as pre-existing.

Larry and Linda Eckler, proprietors of Morgan Motors of New England on County Route 7A, already use an OWB, and they wrote a letter opposing the new law because it “would try to force us to go through a permit process after-the-fact.” The couple said that their OWB “meets or exceeds current Environmental Protection Agency emission” standards.

While the Ecklers said the permit process is understandable for new installations going forward, “to make any permit process retroactive is beyond belief. Can the town then propose retroactive legislation for anything?”

In their letter, the Ecklers suggested that the town should deal with other, more important matters, like “the ongoing budget crisis” instead of “punishing hard-working taxpayers.”

Because they think the section of the law that deals with pre-existing OWBs “reads like a threat,” the Ecklers said they have retained legal counsel to review it.

Harvey Weber, who serves on the Columbia County Environmental Management Council and the town Environmental Committee, said the Copake law is “the best in the county” and should be “passed for the betterment of our citizenry.”

Morris Ordover questioned how town officials will know whether people have pre-existing OWBs, calling compliance with the new law “voluntary.” He said that if the board expects Zoning Enforcement Officer Ed Ferratto to drive around town looking for pre-existing OWBs, the Town Board will have to give him more money.

In response, Supervisor Reggie Crowley said that it is a “citizen’s duty” to report someone who has an OWB but does not have a permit. He said the town will put an ad in the newspaper notifying people that they have to apply for a permit. “We can’t go to every door,” he said.

Jeff Nayer, chairman of the town Zoning Board of Appeals, questioned why people with existing OWBs need a building permit or a site plan review. He also expressed concern about the costs to the applicant.

Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia, who drafted the law along with Councilman Dan Tompkins, explained that a site plan review was recommended by Planning Board Attorney Lawrence Howard, because if there is a problem, applicants still have the recourse of appealing to the ZBA.

Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea said that because OWBs may have a visual impact, a site plan review gives the town some degree of “visual control.”

Councilman Tompkins noted that the county also recommends requiring a site plan review.

Ms. Gabaccia said the law calls for a fee schedule to be set by the Town Board and that those fees will be waived if people with pre-existing OWBs file an application within three months.

Mr. Nayer said that the new law calls for the owners of new or pre-existing OWBs to meet a chimney height requirement of 12 feet above the ground, yet some OWBs are not built to work properly if the chimney is too high. In response, the board changed the language to make the requirement 12-feet high or per manufacturer’s specifications prior to adopting the law.

Mr. Nayer also told the board it was “making a big mistake” by omitting the most important element of an OWB law–the inclusion of “blackout dates,” or times when use of the devices is prohibited, such as during the summer “when the air is stagnant and people have their windows open.” County recommendations include setting seasonal use limits on OWBs, prohibiting their use from May 1 through September 30.

Someone said that some people use their OWBs to heat their swimming pools and that the date restriction would be a hardship. But Mr. Nayer said that people who have $50,000 to install a pool will not experience a hardship if they cannot use an OWB to heat it.

Ms. Gabaccia said she believed that the setback requirements prescribed by the new law addressed the year-round use issue adequately. “We made the law more stringent than it had to be,” she said.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com.


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