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Outdoor furnace ban law tabled

Published August 24. 2010 05:00PM

An ordinance to ban outdoor wood burners and furnaces brought a standing room only audience to last evening's Mahoning Township supervisor's meeting. Also, a large number of residents registered to address the board, most of whom were in opposition to the complete banning of the furnaces.

In a change of direction the board tabled the ordinance after listening to the residents.

The comments began with former longtime supervisor Tim Eckhart, who voiced his opposition to the supervisor's ban of the devices. He also asked for an opportunity to meet with the board and develop a compromise that would allow them, but provide for regulations for their use in the township.

"I agree there needs to be some regulation," Eckhart said, "but I think the people who already own them should have some input into this ordinance before you just ban them." Eckhart said he was empathetic to the supervisors' responsibilities, but felt that by banning them the township was opening itself up to challenges and possible legal action.

The ordinance, number 2010-2, called for the complete ban of outdoor wood burners and furnaces in the township for six months of the year. During a workshop earlier this year supervisors were presented with pages of evidence, which according to Supervisor Travis Steigerwalt, was almost an inch and a half thick and outlined the dangers of wood burners.

When pressed by residents, Steigerwalt said some of the information referred to stage one wood burners, but acknowledged that stage two burners were supposed to be cleaner burning.

"The ordinance is a step in the wrong direction," said resident James Whitehead. "The word ban is disconcerting to me."

Whitehead said many of the residents using these burners are doing so as an alternative to burning fossil fuels. He also pointed out that climatology for the area shows the need to provide heat to homes for nine months out of the year, which makes the six-month window authorized by the ordinance for using the burners too short to be practical.

"We need to be able to provide heat for our homes and for heating water," he added.

"We would like more time to gather information to help you make an informed decision about enacting this ordinance," said resident Susan Whitehead.

Another resident, Marvin Halpert, asked why outdoor burners were more of a problem than indoor burners and fireplaces. He claimed that many of the homes in the township had those heat sources and they didn't seem to cause a problem.

Herman Snyder, who admitted he was a dealer of one brand of the furnaces, told supervisors the smoke about which people complain many times is due to using older furnaces, an improper setup or the wrong fuel or type of wood. He said if supervisors banned the furnaces it would put a severe hardship on his business.

Several other residents reiterated the comments made by the speakers against the ordinance, but one resident Shelly Finnegan spoke out against them.

"Nothing is mentioned about the smoke they produce and what it does to your neighbors," she said adding that it places her in an uncomfortable position against her neighbors and friends.

"They don't talk about how your nose burns, your eyes water and the nose bleeds," she said. She also mentioned that her whole house smells like smoke and it permeates everything including her pillow on her bed. She criticized the opponents of the ordinance, claiming that if they were so interested in helping the environment, they wouldn't be burning the wood and releasing the smoke and particulates into the air.

Eckhart countered that the new furnaces do not spew smoke if assembled properly, but Supervisor George Stawnyczyj said that was only true when the furnace was fully operating. He said if they run low on fuel or when you start them, they still make smoke. Eckhart also told supervisors this ban would create hardships for at least one local farmer who relies on the wood burner for heating his barn and the water used to clean it, as well as his house.

He added there should be exemptions based on the size of the property.

The main issue many of the attendees mentioned was asking the board to delay passage of the ordinance because of a recent state regulatory board ruling, asking the supervisors read that information before they adopt the ordinance.

Steigerwalt moved to table the issue, but before it could be seconded a short discussion became quite animated among supervisors. Supervisor Frank Ruch, who has been the sole opposition to the ordinance since it was first discussed, questioned Steigerwalt's request to table.

"I said all of the things these people told you in the workshop last month, but you all chose to go ahead and advertise this ordinance and now you want to table it after we paid to advertise it. Why didn't you do that when I asked you to do it," Ruch asked.

Steigerwalt responded by asking Ruch to not get upset, and Ruch said he was not upset but he didn't understand why it took a roomful of people to get the supervisors to consider the ordinance further. He also pointed out the waste of money it would be to do it twice.

Stawnyczyj said he would have still opposed it regardless of the roomful of residents, but what is making him, as well as the other supervisors pause is the knowledge of possible new state guidelines.

"I would like to review those before a decision is reached or an ordinance is passed," Stawnyczyj said.

The motion to table the ordinance until additional information from the state was obtained by the board passed 3-2, with Wieczorek and Ruch in opposition, while Supervisors Linda Benner, Stawnyczyj and Steigerwalt supported the tabling of the ordinance.

A specific decision as to when the ordinance would next be discussed was not announced.

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