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More modest changes suggested for wood boilers

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La Crosse County officials have dialed back some of the proposed new regulations for outdoor wood-fired furnaces, including delaying by a decade the deadline to replace older boilers with cleaner-burning models.

Owners of these wood-burning heaters now would have until December 2030, rather than the end of 2020, to upgrade to the “Phase II” type preferred by the EPA that experts say burns 90 percent cleaner than the older models.

In amending the proposed ordinance Monday, the county board also dropped requiring that existing wood furnaces be shut down or swapped out for the Phase 2 versions if a property is sold or transferred, or restricting the furnaces to areas zoned as general or exclusive agriculture.

Instead, the outdoor boilers would be prohibited within a platted subdivision, said Supervisor Monica Kruse, who heads the county’s Health and Human Services Board.

Altered but still in the proposed changes is requiring any outdoor wood-fired furnace within 300 to 500 feet of a dwelling and not on the same property have a smokestack at least 2 feet higher than the peak roofline of that neighboring residence.

New furnaces would have to be at least 300 feet away from those neighbors, rather than the current 200 feet, and be the Phase II variety.

While the matter was to come up for a final decision this month, the changes Monday are considered substantial enough that board Chairwoman Tara Johnson ruled the amended ordinance could only be considered for first reading, meaning it won’t be voted on until December.

That allows time as well to bring the proposal to the towns association later this month for discussion.

The new regulations, first brought forth in October, are designed to address health concerns about the smoke produced by these wood-fueled furnaces, commonly referred to as wood boilers, which because they burn slower and longer emit particulate matter that can cause or aggravate certain medical conditions such as asthma. The county has received some complaints about the proximity of the wood-burning units to other homes, county Health Department Director Doug Mormann said.

“We need to do what we can to keep our neighborhoods clean and free of health hazards,” Supervisor Kim Cable said.

But some supervisors have questioned whether this is too much regulation given the number of complaints and how enforcement would be possible, as Mormann has acknowledged they don’t know the total number of wood-fired furnaces in the county. Mormann said oversight of compliance likely would be complaint-driven.


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