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City expands woodstove replacement program beyond city limits

Kathy Aney

East Oregonian

Published on December 7, 2016 8:59PM

Richard Oja gestures while talking about the ease with which he can control his Napoleon gas fireplace on Wednesday at his home in  Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Richard Oja gestures while talking about the ease with which he can control his Napoleon gas fireplace on Wednesday at his home in Pendleton.

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Richard Oja holds the remote for his Napoleon gas fireplace. The remote also functions as a thermostat.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Richard Oja holds the remote for his Napoleon gas fireplace. The remote also functions as a thermostat.

Buy this photo

Smoke curling from a chimney makes for a serene winter tableau, but in that woodsy scent lurks dangerous gases and other toxins that damage human health.

“Woodstoves are one of the primary causes of particulate matter in the air,” said Rachel Sakata of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. “Particulate matter can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs and can cause respiratory disease, heart attacks and even premature death.”

The ultrafine airborne specks (.0001 inch and smaller) also contain harmful pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and acrolein.

Pendleton, facing high particulate levels in city air, started offering zero interest loans in 2000 to homeowners with inefficient woodstoves — those lacking certification by the Environmental Protection Agency or DEQ. During the first two years, 93 residents swapped their polluting stoves for cleaner burning gas, electric or pellet units.

Only residents inside the urban growth boundary could take advantage of the interest-free loans, however. Recently, the city council recently expanded the area to include a three-mile swath of land outside city limits.

Richard and Kristen Oja recently use the program to replace an old Earth Stove with a highly efficient Napoleon gas fireplace insert that features flame dancing over realistic-looking imitation logs. He said family gravitates to the fireplace these days to relax in its cozy ambiance.

“It simulates a regular fireplace quite nicely,” Oja said. “It heats the whole (2,500-square-foot) house and supplements the forced air heat.”

Oja said he stumbled on the stove replacement program.

“I looked around for incentives,” he said. “I came across the city’s program through a Google search.”

He learned he could borrow up to $3,500 and pay the interest-free loan back over five years. The city website listed all the conditions. He must apply, select an approved heating system, select a contractor, get a mechanical permit, undergo an inspection and provide a certificate from Pendleton Sanitary Service verifying disposal of the old stove or insert.

The to-do list might seem daunting, he said, but in practice it was simple.

“The contractor came and took the old stove out, hauled it to the transfer center and got a certificate of disposal to prove it was out of circulation,” Oja said. “They did all the paperwork and it couldn’t have been easier.”

That’s music to the ears of regulatory specialist Klaus Hoehna, who works with Pendleton’s Air Quality Commission to educate the public about air quality, oversee the stove replacement program and generate daily air quality forecasts during the winter. The commission consists of volunteers from the healthcare community, the National Weather Service and other areas of interest. Hoehna came out of retirement after a military career several years ago to become the city’s regulatory specialist.

He estimated that the number of polluting woodstoves in the city has dropped from about 900 to 400 – 188 were replaced using city loans. The air got steadily clearer since the program’s launch in 2000 until 2007 when it hit a plateau after use of the program slowed. Air quality still dives periodically when the air becomes cold and stagnant.

In June, the commission recommended that the city council expand the program geographically to three miles outside city limits.

“The commission felt there was still an issue with particulate matter coming in from the south and southwest (Reith and McKay Creek areas),” Hoehna said. “Everyone will benefit — both city and country dwellers. The council saw the wisdom in that.”

He said the three-mile increase isn’t a hard and fast rule and allows for some professional judgment to determine eligibility. He said going outside city limits meant involving non-city agencies and getting the blessings of Umatilla County, the state Building Codes Division and the DEQ.

Sakata, of the DEQ, described Pendleton’s program as unique, innovative and self-sustaining.

“Nationally, lots of folks look to what Pendleton is doing,” Sakata said.

Statewide, she said, two cities – Klamath Falls and Oakridge – are considered “nonattainment areas,” meaning they aren’t meeting EPA standards. Eight more cities, she said, are on the bubble. Pendleton isn’t one of them.

“Pendleton has been really proactive,” she said.

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.



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