Changes could put industrial polluters under county control

Missoula's Air Pollution Control Board will consider rule changes Thursday that would bring medium-sized industrial polluters - including Borden Chemical, Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. and the Conoco/Exxon refueling plant - under local control.

The first-ever wholesale review of Missoula's 142-page-long air pollution control program also will give citizens and the pollution control board a chance to comment on everything from the document's language to proposed changes in rules governing outdoor burning, dust from construction sites and parking lots, the sale of wood stoves and limits on how long a vehicle can be left idling.

"We actually started out needing to adopt new language in order to regain control over medium-sized industries," said air quality specialist Shannon Therriault. "It kind of evolved into something where there is no page without a strikeout or an underline. We looked at every single rule."

Most of the revisions are intended to make the document more user-friendly, she said. "It had been a long time since anybody looked at the air quality program overall. I proposed a new way to organize the rule, and we came up with something we were comfortable with - that was better organized and more readable."

Most of the new material - 46 pages worth - was needed for the City-County Health Department to issue permits and regulate medium-sized industries that pollute the air. There are three such industries in the county: Borden, Pyramid and Conoco/Exxon.

Missoula County once regulated those pollution sources, then lost the authority during the 1990s. By rewording its pollution control program, the county can again regulate the industries. The state still controls the largest industrial polluters, including Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., Louisiana-Pacific Corp. and Stimson Lumber Co.

Open to public comment at Thursday's Air Board meeting, the proposals also include some regulatory changes that will affect individuals and smaller businesses in the Missoula area. Among the suggestions:

€ A new rule would prohibit idling of vehicles, diesel or gasoline-powered, for more than 30 minutes.

"The objective of this rule is to give us the ability to address situations where diesel trucks are idling for hours and hours or overnight," said Therriault. "We've gotten complaints from people who have neighbors who warm up trucks for hours and hours. One of the complaints was even in the summer."

€ A new rule would insist that workers at construction sites take reasonable precautions to keep particulate - dust and dirt - out of the air. "It is very clear in the rules that people who are in charge of construction sites have to clean up their mess," she said. "If trucks pull dirt out onto the road, they need to get a street sweeper out there."

€ An existing rule requiring new parking lots to be paved would be modified so some lots - including those used for long-term storage, outdoor recreation or entertainment facilities - could instead be grass. "Our goal is not to pave Missoula County," Therriault said. "Our goal is to keep dust out of the air."

€ The zone in which outdoor burning is severely limited, to prevent dense accumulations of smoke in the Missoula Valley, would be enlarged to include the Blackfoot drainage to Johnsrud Park and the Interstate 90 corridor almost to Rock Creek. "In the past 10 or 15 years, we have had a lot of thick smoke funneling into the valley from those canyons," she said. "We needed to tighten the windows for burning." The rule primarily affects timber companies and the U.S. Forest Service that burn slash piles and logging sites in the spring and fall.

€ Revised regulations would streamline the process for certifying that wood stoves are removed from houses when they are sold. A new rule would require labels on wood stoves sold in the Missoula Valley explaining that they cannot be installed in local homes. Within four and a half miles of the city limits, Missoula County new wood stoves or new wood-fired fireplaces are not allowed. And old stoves must be removed when a house is sold.

If you're interested

A full copy of the proposed rule changes is available at the City-County Health Department, 301 W. Alder St., or by sending a request by e-mail to Thursday's public hearing is at 12:15 p.m. in Room 201 of the Missoula County Courthouse.

Reporter Sherry Devlin can be reached at 523-5268 or by e-mail at

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