Copake plans to regulate outdoor wood furnaces

COPAKE–Which comes first, the law or the moratorium?

The Town Board considered enacting a moratorium on the installation of outdoor wood furnaces at its September 12 meeting, but decided to wait and first enact a law to regulate them.

Beginning at 8:30 Saturday morning, Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley opened a public hearing on proposed Local Law #2, which called for a three-month moratorium on installing or even applying for a permit to install an outdoor wood furnace, also called an outdoor wood boiler, anywhere in Copake.

The Town of Kinderhook enacted a moratorium on the devices in August and currently has a Code Committee working on a law to regulate them, Kinderhook Supervisor Doug McGivney told The Columbia Paper in a phone interview Tuesday.

Mr. McGivney said the absence of government guidelines for the operation of the outdoor wood boilers was brought to the Town Board’s attention by the town’s Building Department after Kinderhook Village residents complained that the devices operated by some of their neighbors aggravated respiratory conditions and produced “very noxious” fumes.

At the Saturday public hearing, Copake resident John Belfonte expressed concern for people who sell the outdoor boilers, saying they would have already ordered a certain number of them in anticipation of sales for the winter. He also wondered what would happen to someone who recently bought one of the devices and plans to install it in the next few weeks. He said that new outdoor furnace models are more efficient than the boiler in his house.

“There’s nothing wrong with the stoves; it’s like driving a car–it’s who’s behind the wheel,” said Mr. Belfonte, who suggested that the board should not be considering the matter at this time of year.

“He brings up a valid point, we’re going into a heating season” and a moratorium would “limit peoples’ options,” said Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia. She said that her partner heats a 11,400 square-foot paintball facility with an outdoor boiler and could not afford to heat the place otherwise.

Supervisor Crowley said the federal government is offering a $1,500 tax credit for buying one of the outdoor furnaces.

Councilman Daniel Tompkins said the Town of Hillsdale just purchased one for the highway garage. He said regulations should be put in place that address density issues, such as the height of the smokestack and that a certain percentage efficiency be required. He said the town zoning enforcement officer or the police should inspect the devices two or three times a year to check for evidence of abuse, such as the burning of garbage or tires.

Attention is now being paid to the outdoor furnaces because the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) sent a notice to towns asking them to impose a moratorium until more information about the devices is known, said Mr. Crowley.

“Evidently, the DEC does not have more information [since] they could ban them if they wanted to,” the supervisor said.

Harvey Weber, chair of the town’s Environmental Committee, said his committee did a review of outdoor wood furnaces and handed over their recommendations to the Town Board in April. He said a moratorium on the furnaces would be “wise.”

The devices have already been banned by the Taconic Shores Property Owners Association within the Taconic Shores housing development.

Town Zoning Enforcement Officer Edward Ferratto said that dangers of the particulates emitted by the devices and the problems associated with them have been well publicized. He said anyone who deals in outdoor wood furnaces is aware of the issues.

A report called Smoke Gets in Your Lungs: Outdoor Wood Boilers in New York State, issued by the state Office of the Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau, reports that neither federal nor state regulations “limit the pollution from nor address the proper use of outdoor wood boilers. Unlike indoor wood stoves and other heating devices, outdoor wood boilers do not have to meet safety or performance standards.” The report says that some local governments have imposed limits on outdoor wood boilers and in 2007, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and outdoor wood boiler manufacturers agreed to “voluntary goals of reducing particulate matter emissions.” But these goals are not enforceable and don’t prevent impacts on public health, says the report.

Resident Chris Quinby told that board that people can put these devices “anywhere they want right now because we have no rules or regulations on them. We need at least a moratorium” because now that people are aware the board is looking to pass a law regulating them they will rush to put them in before the law goes into effect.

Resident Morris Ordover concurred. “I agree with Chris for the first time in our lives,” he said, adding that the town needs a moratorium to prevent any “reckless installations.”

Former councilwoman Lindsay Lebrecht-Funk said that when she was in town government, the board faced a similar issue with cell towers. She said a moratorium on cell towers was enacted until the board had the research and could “do it right the first time.” She also suggested that any outdoor wood boiler law have a “provision for hardship.”

Later in the meeting Councilman Tompkins suggested that the board drop the idea of a moratorium and instead draft a law regulating the devices, including setbacks, efficiency ratings and enforcement, in time for the October meeting.

Councilman Bob Sacks said that he could not support the moratorium because the board had “not done our research.”

Resident Karen Hallenbeck demanded to know: “Where have you been since April? This information was brought to you in April.”

Noting that she also could not support the moratorium, Ms. Gabaccia called the situation “an enforcement issue” that does not call for a moratorium.

The board agreed with Supervisor Crowley’s motion to draft a local law regulating outdoor boilers and hold a public hearing on the proposed law prior to the October 8 meeting.

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