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7:00 PM Wed, July 18th

Remodeling Eden:<BR><i> Tri-city air quality remains at acceptable levels – so far</i>

The EPA also gets involved when pollution affects "Class I" areas, which are the larger wilderness areas and national parks that the federal government created before the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments. They include the Sycamore Canyon and Pine Mountain wilderness areas in Yavapai County.

The Western Regional Air Partnership aims to improve the air quality in these wild areas. It has a Web site at www.wrapair.org.

When officials prove that a far-away site is reducing the views in a wilderness area or national park, the EPA can require the source to reduce its emissions.

It also can require municipalities to come up with ways to reduce their air pollution if measuring devices show that pollution exceeds EPA standards.

Payson among problem areas

It's surprising to hear the names of some of the Arizona communities that have violated EPA air quality standards, such as Payson. Woodstoves and topography combine to create its particular problem.

Domsky said. It now requires gas or electric as primary heating sources, and woodstoves must meet EPA standards.

Bullhead City violated EPA standards because of its construction dust, Domsky said. In one example, construction was taking place on Highway 95 and an airport project had cleared about 100 acres without providing dust control.

Do we have a problem?

Some tri-city residents such as Dan Stih are concerned that this area already has its pollution problems, too.

Stih has been documenting early-morning haze that hangs over Prescott. He believes that heavy equipment starting up and idling in the morning is the culprit.

That's probably the cause of Prescott Valley's morning haze, too, Tarkowski said. You sometimes can see it if you're driving toward Mingus Mountain on Highway 89A in the morning.

Quite a bit of housing construction is going on around that area, Tarkowski noted. The heavy equipment starts up about the same time. By 10 a.m., the haze is gone.

Phoenix is working on an ordinance that restricts road-licensed diesel engine idling time to five minutes unless it's necessary to leave the engine running for equipment, such as cement mixers, Domsky said. He's not aware of any ordinance that restricts idling of off-road diesel equipment.

This "fugitive" air pollution that results from population growth is probably the main thing the Prescott tri-city area needs to keep an eye on, Domsky said. It also comes from traffic on dirt roads, especially large trucks involved in construction projects.

Local efforts to reduce dust

After getting a host of complaints about road dust, Prescott Valley initiated an aggressive road chip sealing program in the 1990s and got rid of all its dirt roads by 1996, Tarkowski said.

"That is a very huge step toward controlling dust," he said.

Chino Valley also had 116 of 120 miles of roads paved before its recent annexation, Community Development Director Stu Spaulding said.

"Dust was a real problem in our town, and the main reason that compelled the town to pave roads," Spaulding said.

Yavapai County's paving program gets about 10 new miles paved annually, said Norm Davis, who represented the county on the CYTPO air quality committee.

But chemically sensitive people raised a stink about using chemical dust controls on roads, so supervisors have a policy against it.

Domsky recommends road paving or stabilization as a major way to reduce fugitive air pollution. Local governments also can require landowners not to clear land until they're ready to develop it, and require them to use water to keep down construction dust, he added.

Basin can create inversions

Being in a basin, Prescott has the potential for trapping all this dust and smoke through an inversion. Cold air is more dense than warm air, and it sinks and traps the air pollution until the morning sun warms up the air and the haze begins to dissipate.

As the haze rises with the warming air, it becomes more visible, but not worse, Domsky said.

When weather forecasters are off the mark, inversions cause smoke from Prescott National Forest prescribed burns to roll down into the basin with the cool air at night, then hold it there until the morning sun warms up the atmosphere.

Herring is concerned that air quality monitors aren't measuring the air quality when these prescribed burn inversions occur.

However, "I'd be the last one to say, 'We can never do any prescribed burns because of this,'" he added.

Stih also has concerns about people who burn brush, pine needles, leaves and trash on private property. And he worries that people don't know or care about the laws that govern such burning.

It's illegal to burn household garbage in this state, Prescott Fire Marshal Ted Galde said. However, people can burn natural materials, i.e. wood products such as pine needles, brush and paper. But they need a permit to do that. Within Prescott, the fire department issues those permits.

When a permit holder is ready to burn, he/she has to get fire department clearance to burn that day, since the department keeps close tabs on weather conditions.

But sometimes, as Hillside and the Grand Canyon attest, a community has no control over some of its air pollution sources. On occasion, you can see air pollution float from the Phoenix metropolitan area up Black Canyon toward Prescott Valley, Herring said.

"It's a regional problem, and we're all contributing to it," he said.

Contact Joanna Dodder at jdodder@prescottaz.com