The city of St. Maries hopes to improve air quality through the implementation of a wood stove replacement initiative. Applications could be accepted as early as March with installations occurring over the summer.

The council first addressed air quality concerns at a meeting in October when Dan Redline, regional administrator for DEQ, and Shawn Sweetapple, an air quality manager for the DEQ office in Coeur d’Alene, spoke to the council about the high levels of pollutants in the air.

Numbers show that St. Maries’ levels are close to federal standards of what is acceptable for the number of particulates (smoke) in the air. In some instances, when emergency events are factored in, the standards have been exceeded.

While open burning, wildfires, prescribed burns and industry all contribute to the pollution in the air, Mr. Sweetapple said one of the main culprits are wood-burning stoves.

“We are finding in these smaller, mountain towns, wood stoves play a big part. We can look at the history of pollutant levels and when low temperatures arrive and wood stoves go on there is a big jump. There’s no other type of burning going on,” Mr. Sweetapple said.

The outcome of the meeting was to enroll in the PM Advance program, which takes steps to help communities address air quality issues before breaking national standards.

“It’s a more proactive approach so we suggested it was a good idea and they are in the process of applying to the EPA,” Mr. Sweetapple said.

St. Maries Council President Randall Saunders said it is important for the city to take steps to prevent levels from breaking national standards.

“We have to be proactive because if we do exceed levels we will find ourselves in more trouble with the EPA and DEQ,” Mr. Saunders said. “The numbers show that we are borderline and if we break standards we will find ourselves in a remediation program and potentially under more regulations.”

Mr. Saunders added the health of citizens is important to the city. He said there are many factors beyond the city’s control at times, especially if smoke from Washington fires moves into the area.

For the St. Maries air shed, the three-year rolling average for a 24-hour period for 2016 to 2018 was 32 pg/m³ without an emergency incident. When the emergency incidents were factored in the number was 37 pg/m³. The federal standard is 35 pg/m³. The annual average for the same year range, without emergency incidents, was 9.1 pg/m³. That jumps to 10.5 (19.7) pg/m³with emergency events. A federal standard for annual level is 12 pg/m³.

Once enrolled in the program, the next step is to form a committee, which is underway Mr. Sweetapple said. The committee is made up of individuals from the city, private industry, individuals from the hospital and school board as well.

Replacing antiquated wood stoves is one of the main projects cities will do. While the PM Advance program is through the EPA, the EPA does not provide funding for a wood stove replacement program. However, being enrolled in the program does give the city a “leg up when it comes to applying for grants.”

Mr. Sweetapple continued that the DEQ and PotlatchDeltic will contribute $20,000 a piece toward replacing older, less efficient woodstoves. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has committed $30,000 for a starting total of $70,000.

The cost to change out an older woodstove for a more efficient one can be around $3,500 per stove, Mr. Sweetapple said. It will be the committee’s job to determine who will qualify for a woodstove replacement as well as to determine the amount to be covered with the project’s funds.

“In talk, it sounds like the focus will be on primarily low-income households with city limits,” Mr. Sweetapple said.

Mr. Sweetapple said older woodstoves produce 40 to 60 micrograms of particulate matter in an hour. New stoves produce around 2.5 micrograms.

“Pinehurst has been doing this for three years and by the end of this summer around 180 woodstoves will have been replaced. Preliminary numbers are showing that the levels of particulate matter in the air are dropping,” Mr. Sweetapple said.

Mr. Sweetapple said newer stoves don’t only produce less pollution but they burn less wood so it is a win-win.

Other items that could come out of the plan could include educational materials, signage and additional ordinances, Mr. Sweetapple added.

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