2010 March 11: MN Stillwater: Outdoor wood burners to go up in smoke

2010 March 11: MN Stillwater: Outdoor wood burners to go up in smoke

Stillwater council set to pass nuisance law

by Loretta Harding
Contributing Writer

Thursday, March 11, 2010 10:30 AM CST
After months of fielding phone calls complaining about pollution and poor air quality from a neighboring outdoor wood boiler, the Stillwater City Council unanimously approved the first reading of a new nuisance ordinance outlawing outdoor wood boilers.

At the end of the March 2 public hearing, the council considered an amendment to City Code Section 38-1 by declaring outdoor wood boilers a public nuisance and prohibiting them in the City of Stillwater. The ordinance will be adopted without a grandfather clause, meaning that even existing wood burners have to go.

Jeff Shaleen, who installed a wood burner in September, told the council he did everything the city asked and obtained a permit. The burner was expensive to install, Shaleen said, and asked that he be granted grandfather rights.

Mayor Ken Harycki and members of the City Council assured Shaleen that conversations with residents suffering from respiratory conditions convinced them not to grant grandfather status. “I understand your plight,” Harycki told Shaleen. “The swing point was the asthma of a resident’s daughter. If my kids were affected health wise and a wood burner was next to my backyard, I wouldn’t want to live next to it. I know you took steps, but we still get the calls.”

City Attorney David Magnuson said that other communities have declared outdoor wood burners to be nuisances due to medical issues, and that people were not entitled to damages for the elimination of the nuisance. “It seems unfair, but that’s what the law provides now,” he said.

Before reaching a decision, city staff researched the effects of wood burner pollution and what other cities had done about it.

Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York State Attorney General’s Office showed that outdoor wood burners cause health hazards for people with cardiovascular disease and breathing ailments, City Planner Mike Pogge said. A free-standing outdoor wood burner will create 12 times the amount of fine particulate matter than an EPA-approved indoor wood fireplace and 1,800 times more fine particulate matter than a natural gas furnace, the study showed.

The policies of other communities run the gamut, Pogge said. Oak Park Heights and Forest Lake regulate and prohibit wood burners within their city limits, providing sound footing for Stillwater to do the same, he said.

The only question remaining for council is the effective date. By default, the ordinance becomes effective on the date of its publication. However, specific wording in the ordinance could delay its effective date until the end of the heating season.

In other actions, the council:

•Witnessed Officer Brad Allen of the Stillwater Police Department receive the Award of Valor for his actions on Dec. 11, 2009. Allen was the first to arrive at a scene in which two people were shot and a suspect was still armed and shooting. When the suspect ignored Allen’s orders to drop the gun and fired instead, Allen returned fire and killed the shooter, Gerald Propps. “Officer Allen’s performance demonstrated great bravery, and his selfless act saved unknown numbers of residents in the building,” Police Chief John Gannaway said.

•Heard the 2009 Stillwater and Oak Park Heights Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) update from Steve Roll. The CVB is advertising in a variety of media and is working with business groups and social networks. The bureau has redesigned its Web site at www.ilovestillwater.com for 2010 to be comprehensive and informative with an added goal of reaching out to wedding planners.

•Heard the budget report from City Administrator Larry Hansen. The governor has “unallotted” the remainder of Stillwater’s $183,297 in Local Government Aid along with $374,993 in Market Value Homestead Credit for a total revenue loss from the state of $558,290. The city will cut $428,281 from its budget and add $27,500 in additional revenue from Municipal State Aid increase and park fees, Hansen said. “I’m not going to lie to anybody — there’s going to be an impact,” he said, but added, “We can do it.”

•Unanimously approved the forestry consultant contract for 2010, an action tabled from the Feb. 16 meeting. After renegotiating estimated hours for 2010, Kathy Widin, Plant Health Associates, Inc., will provide approximately 70 hours of service at $48 per hour for $3,360. The bulk of 2010 forestry service will include maintaining the forestry hotline for residents and performing Emerald Ash Borer work.

•Approved the Stillwater Police Department request to hire two community service officers and four to six parking attendants for summer operations. The CSO’s will focus on parking enforcement and other duties, while the attendants will assist visitors in finding and paying for parking.

•Unanimously authorized the city engineer to prepare plans and specifications and to order advertisement for bids for the 2010 Street Improvement Project.

•Unanimously passed the second reading of Ordinance 1014, an ordinance amending the city code by changing commission regulations.

•Unanimously approved the transfer of a tobacco license from Stillwater Tobacco Inc. to Tobacco Market, Inc., located at 2040 Market Drive.

•Unanimously approved the dock permit for St. Croix Boat & Packet Co., an action tabled from the Feb. 1 meeting until the Downtown Parking Commission had a chance to review parking. The passenger capacity and number of boat passengers has fallen since 2003.

•Heard an update from Harycki on the status of the Cayuga, which has been slowly sinking into the river. The owner of St. Croix Boat and Packet has found a local business interested in cutting up the boat for scrap once rising floodwaters have lifted the boat onto dry land this spring.

•Tabled the second reading of Ordinance 1015, an ordinance amending the Charter of the City of Stillwater.

The council next meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 16 at City Hall.

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