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City needs more informed discussion of outdoor wood boilers

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Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 12:12 am | Updated: 2:00 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

Two key ideas were largely missing from the city council discussion about allowing people in the city with outdoor wood boilers to replace them with newer models—setbacks from property lines and stack heights.

In 2009, the city banned outdoor wood boilers, an action that came about when city leaders realized that it had been a mistake to allow them in the first place on tiny city lots.

In response to complaints from the owners of outdoor boilers in the city, the council grandfathered in the existing wood boilers, with the understanding that this was the way to phase them out.

The measure approved unanimously by the council Monday would allow the owners of those old boilers to replace them with newer ones that don't pollute as much.

But what the council members missed for the most part is that the placement of a hydronic heater on a list  by the Environmental Protection Agency saying that it is superior to an old boiler does not address the complete issue.

There is the matter of whether any of these devices, old or new, belong on small city lots and the associated issue of how high the stack is from the outdoor wood boiler.

Minimum setbacks and minimum stack heights are common practice in many communities and the council should adopt both before any replacements are approved. If reasonable setbacks are impossible because a lot is too small, then perhaps the city should set a deadline for having the boiler removed.

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