Frederick County suspends open burning permits

The Frederick County Fire and Rescue Department has suspended open burning within the county until Sept. 30.

Frederick County Fire Marshal Jay Bauserman said that decision was made in accordance with regulations from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

According to the department’s regulations for open burning, localities listed under volatile organic compounds emissions control areas are prohibited from open burning of waste from May through September.

Such burning includes “waste and debris waste” from property maintenance, development of road or highway work and additional infrastructure such as communication lines or buildings.

These are burning operations that might otherwise be permitted through Bauserman’s department.

“The only exceptions are forestry management operations and agriculture practices,” Bauserman noted. “It does not apply to backyard barbecues, residential cooking or warming fires.”

Both Frederick County and the City of Winchester are listed under the western Virginia Emissions Control Area, which is one of five in the state, and also includes Roanoke County and Roanoke City.

Bauserman said that he and his department “had no idea … that we were in this emissions control area.”

Bill Hayden, director of media relations for the department, said that localities listed within the state’s five emissions control areas are there because “they have had pollution problems in the past.”

According to Hayden, Frederick County and Winchester “entered into an agreement with the state” to “treat themselves as a pollution area.”

The agreement was finalized and approved by former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner Jan. 20, 2004, according to the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall’s website (http://1.usa.gov/1HrmpeI).

Although Hayden said Frederick and Winchester did not have a pollution problem at the time, the level of pollution in both areas was “higher than [the department] wanted them to be.”

Both localities decided on this agreement with the state in order to avoid being called “pollution area” by the state, which allowed them to avoid some of the polluted-area restrictions outside of the burning ban.

With these control areas, Hayden explained that the department is looking to control ozone pollution that can be exacerbated by a whole laundry list of volatile organic compounds.

The list includes methane acetone and numerous other compounds that, Hayden noted, “are released when something burns and … can mix in the hot sun and form ozone pollution.”

Frederick County and Winchester are the only localities in the valley north of Roanoke that are listed in an Emissions Control Area.

The counties of Warren, Shenandoah, Page and Clarke are not listed in any emissions control areas due to the fact that they “have not had a pollution problem,” Hayden noted.

Frederick County’s response last week was due to a situation that Bauserman was made aware of concerning a Virginia Department of Transportation project off of Interstate 81 at Route 37.

VDOT is looking to clear up traffic coming off of the I-81 and Route 37 interchange.

On May 14, department senior environmental inspector David Taylor noticed crew members from Warrenton-based General Excavation Inc. (GEI) burning large amounts of brush for the project.

Taylor said he issued the crew a request for corrective action, which as he explained, and asked the crew to extinguish the fire as it was in violation of the state’s regulations.

Robert “Robbie” Good, of VDOT, is head of the Kernstown project and he said the crew had “secured … an open burn permit through Frederick County.”

Good noted that the department’s regulations regarding open burns in Frederick was stipulated as a provision in VDOT’s contract with General Excavation Inc. for the project.

“We will make the notification to the contractor and ensure that this doesn’t happen again in the future,” Good stated, adding that crews will now “grind the material [into] mulch.”

Now that Bauserman is aware of the regulation, he said, “It’s going to be a learning experience for all of us, that’s for sure.”

Within the past four years, Bauserman said that they averaged “about 15 commercial burns permits per year” in the past four years.

As it stands, Bauserman said his department has approved 12 for 2015, but “had eight active permits” that will now have to be pushed back until after Sept. 30.

Since issuing the May 15 release, Bauserman noted that he has received quite a few phone calls from residents and local entities that have expressed concern over the ban.

“I can’t necessarily say that I agree with what [the state] is doing, I just can’t go against what the state regulates or requires,” Bauserman said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com