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The city of Chico's proposed wood-burning ordinance is based on the air pollution control rule that was rejected by the Butte County Air Quality Management District's board last September.

The law would ban use of non-EPA-certified wood stoves and fireplaces on days when bad air quality conditions are forecast. The EPA says the certified stoves only release 2-7 grams of smoke an hour, compared to older stoves that can spew 15-30 grams per hour.

Bob Land, an instrument technician for the California Air Resources Board, checking inflow take on air monitor. (Ty Barbour/Chico E-R)

There would be exceptions for cases where natural gas or electricity isn't available (including temporary power outages), or where a wood stove or fireplace was the sole source of heat. There would also be a process to grant hardship exemptions for low-income residents. The burning of manufactured fire logs would also be allowed.*

The law would be enforced through response to the complaints of residents, rather than by having "smoke police" prowling the city. The first violation would result in a fine or "smoke awareness" class. The penalties for further violations would vary with the frequency or size.

The timeline approved by the City Council is to have the ordinance in effect by November. It would apply through February.

The city had hoped to have the county adopt a similar ordinance for unincorporated areas within the Chico sphere of influence, and had a timeline that would have seen the Board of Supervisors acting on the proposal in March. It has yet to be placed on the board  agenda.

Councilor Scott Gruendl, the city's representative on the Air Quality Board, said the county's administrative office has declined to put the proposal on the agenda so far.

"If by the latter half of summer we don't get movement by the county front, we'll have to get going on our own to have something in place by November," he said.

That was an alternative all along.

The city would like to have the Air Quality District enforce the city law, as it falls within the district's expertise. That would require a joint powers agreement, which also faces an uncertain fate. Earlier this year, three members of the Air Quality Board voted against even allowing district staff to assist city staff in preparing the ordinance.

If the proposed agreement fails, the city's plan calls for hiring its own inspector to enforce the law.

Correction, Thurs., May 13, 2010: The original version of this story failed to include the exemption of manufactured fire logs from a burning ban. Return to corrected sentence.


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