Wood-burning boiler stokes Morgan neighbors’ ire

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Wood-burning boiler stokes Morgan neighbors’ ire

Postby Wilberforce » Sun Oct 12, 2014 5:31 pm

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This wood-fired boiler in a Morgan subdivision is the subject of a lawsuit brought by neighbors Martha and Clayton Ericson, who allege smoke from this home-heating appliance was a major nuisance for them and their four children. Defendant Chad Willis installed the unit in 2006 and used it to burn pallets he obtained for free. This photo, taken by the Ericsons, is part of the trial evidence before 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde. Photo courtesy of David Stevenson.
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Wood-burning boiler stokes Morgan neighbors’ ire
Courts » Family in rural town seeks damages after neighbor’s smoke sickened them.

By Brian Maffly

| The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Oct 11 2014 12:12 pm • Last Updated Oct 11 2014 09:35 pm

Morgan•Many a Thomas Kinkade painting depicts cozy wood smoke puffing out of a cottage on a cold morning.

But relentless smoke from a neighbor’s outdoor wood-fired boiler became a waking nightmare for Morgan residents Martha and Clayton Ericson and their four children.

For seven years, they asked Chad Willis to stop burning because the heating system’s smoke was not only annoying, but harmful to their physical and emotional health, according to their lawsuit, which went to trial last week in 2nd District Court.

"I said, ‘Chad, the smoke is killing us. It is getting into my home. My clothes are starting to smell like it. Is there anything you can do to control the smoke?’ " Ericson testified Friday before Judge Noel Hyde. "He said, ‘I can’t control the smoke. This is just the way the boiler works.’ "

So Willis continued burning, even allegedly stuffing trash and construction waste into the boiler.

The lawsuit may seem just a dispute between two Morgan County neighbors, but it underscores a growing concern for state air quality managers. There are just 150 heavy-polluting wood-fired boilers in operation in Utah, and state environmental regulators have clamped down on their installation.

But the case may have implications as Utah struggles to find a way to accommodate homeowners who still use wood to heat their homes. If neighbors in a rural community can turn on each other over a polluting home heating system, some wonder if wood-burning stoves and fireplaces in an urban neighborhood might be next.

New research shows smoke from residential wood burning greatly adds to the fine particulate matter that fouls valley air on inverted winter days. There are growing calls to ban the practice, which is already highly restricted along the urbanized Wasatch Front.

The Ericsons say the smoke from Willis’ boiler triggered headaches and shortness of breath and eroded Martha Ericson’s health, already challenged by multiple sclerosis. She suffered respiratory infections and asthma, her doctors testified.

Willis’ attorney Randall Lee Marshall argued the Ericsons failed to take timely legal steps to prevent the alleged nuisance, so it is too late to seek redress in the courts.

State regulators were caught flat-footed as the first wood-fired boilers were installed about 10 years ago.

In rural areas, the heating systems are less of a problem because the smoke disperses. But along the pollution-choked Wasatch Front, they can create a sort of micro-inversion, according to Joel Karmazyn of the Utah Division of Air Quality. He helped craft Utah’s first regulations for wood-fired boilers in 2012.

"There is not enough buoyancy for the smoke to go up the stack. The stack is not heated and the air is cold," Karmazyn said. "The smoke comes out and hangs there and drops. The boilers themselves cause inversions. An inefficient unit is going to create a nuisance."

Utah’s rules now bar the installation of new boilers anywhere in urban areas that are out of attainment for fine particulate pollution. Morgan is just outside Salt Lake’s non-attainment zone.

In the rest of the state, any boiler sold must be "phase II compliant," meaning they meet high emissions standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"We maybe have 100 to 150 in Utah. We aren’t sure," Karmazyn said. "They aren’t that popular in Utah. They are very expensive."

Neighborhood split

Even though his home was equipped with a central furnace, Willis installed the boiler in late 2006 after informing the Ericsons that it would be fired with natural gas, Clayton Ericson testified. To their dismay they saw the 8-foot stack belch wood smoke after Willis fired it up. The unit was located just 150 feet north, or upwind, from the Ericson home.

Relations between the neighbors quickly soured.

Ericson, who served as the homeowners association president at the time, told his neighbor the boiler violated subdivision covenants and he should switch it to natural gas.

"He didn’t care. He was going to do what he wanted to do. He told me, ‘Sue me,’" Ericson testified. He alleged Willis turned other neighbors against his family.

Some neighbors did appear in court on Willis’ behalf, testifying that the Ericsons had "a reputation for stirring up trouble," and the smoke wasn’t a problem.

"We like the smell of the smoke. We burn ourselves," Candace Pope said.

At the time Willis installed his unit, Utah did not have regulations specific to such boilers. But his smoke allegedly exceeded state opacity thresholds and he violated other rules restricting what people can burn.

"My clients saw them burn all sorts of things — plastic, cardboard, grease, MDF," the Ericsons’ attorney David Stevenson said. "Even during summer months, they were burning trash in there. They were using it as an incinerator."

Willis said he shared his plans to burn pallets with all his neighbors.

"I told them exactly how it works. We could get free wood, so we intended to burn that wood," Willis said.

He said the boiler was not designed to handle trash and denied doing so.

"Plastic ruins the inner liner of the boiler," Willis said.

The two sides can agree on one thing: the boiler was ugly.

"Martha said it was the ugliest thing. It looks like an outhouse," Willis testified. "I agree. It looks like an outhouse."

That was the reason, he said, he kept the stack low. But in a later effort to disperse the smoke, Willis raised the stack to 12 feet, then to 20 feet.

Last year, Willis sold his home and moved to Mountain Green.

"We moved because of this conflict," Willis said. "The picture-taking did not stop during the summer. It didn’t matter what you were doing. My wife and I decided we were done."

The new owners got rid of the boiler, which Willis spent $10,000 installing.

bmaffly@sltrib.com

source
http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58509 ... r.html.csp
• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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Re: Wood-burning boiler stokes Morgan neighbors’ ire

Postby Wilberforce » Sat Nov 08, 2014 12:56 pm

Morgan County Judge: Wood boiler not a nuisance
By BRIAN MAFFLY | The Salt Lake Tribune connect
First Published Nov 03 2014 07:20PM • Last Updated Nov 03 2014 10:18 pm

A Morgan County judge has concluded that smoke billowing from a residential wood-burning boiler did not pose the kind of nuisance that an unhappy neighbor could collect damages for.

Without a specific prohibition against burning or diagnostic evidence linking Martha and Clayton Ericson’s medical complaints to the smoke, 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde determined their neighbor Chad Willis’ nearly non-stop wintertime burning was not a nuisance.

"The fact that there is a statute that says nuisances are unlawful does not make every nuisance a nuisance per se," Hyde said in an unusual two-hour ruling from the bench last Thursday. "There must be a specific statutory prohibition of the conduct that is the subject of the nuisance claim."

Hyde issued his decision just days before the Nov. 1 start of the burn season when the state imposes restrictions on residential wood burning along the pollution-plagued Wasatch Front.

Just 10 miles down Interstate 84 in Weber County, Willis would not have been able to use the boiler when stagnant winter weather traps cold air and pollution near the ground.

New research shows smoke from residential wood burning greatly adds to the fine particulate matter that fouls Utah’s valley air on inverted winter days. And there are growing calls to ban the practice, which is already highly restricted along the urbanized Wasatch Front.

But after four days of testimony in his Morgan courtroom, the judge decided the Ericsons could not prove their ailments were linked to their neighbor’s intermittent smoke plume.

Besides, Morgan County sits outside the boundaries of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s five-county, Wasatch Front air quality non-attainment zone, so there are no restrictions on the use of wood-burning appliances. And Division of Air Quality inspectors did not issue a citation after they visited the site, Hyde noted.

Lacking a legal ban on burning, a citation from the state or medical proof of the health impacts, the judge rejected the Ericsons’ claims.

After spending $47,000 on the case, the couple does not plan to appeal, said their attorney, David Stevenson.

The case hinged on a long-standing dispute between neighbors.

In 2006, Willis installed a $10,000 wood-fired boiler outside his home at Spring Hollow, a semi-rural subdivision on North Blue Sage Road outside Morgan. Although his home was equipped with a gas furnace, his attorney argued the investment saved him $450 a month in heating bills during the winter. Willis got the wood for free.

While Willis saved up to $19,000 during the seven winters he used the boiler, its smoke imposed on the Ericsons and their children, Stevenson argued.

Their home is 150 feet from the boiler, which has since been removed by new owners, and the smoke penetrated the house though windows, doors and the dryer vent. The Ericsons alleged the smoke sickened them and made their home and clothing smell.

Martha Ericson’s doctors testified the smoke triggered headaches and shortness of breath and eroded her health, already challenged by multiple sclerosis. Smoke may also have induced Martha’s respiratory infections and asthma and exacerbated her MS symptoms.

In response to their lawsuit, some neighbors harassed the Ericsons, they said. Their home was decorated with eggs and toilet paper. Letters arrived suggesting they move away from the neighborhood. Dead animals turned up in their yard.

"Martha was afraid to go home in fear of what she would find," Stevenson said in closing arguments.

A person is creating a nuisance when he "intentionally or negligently invades the property of another. Is that person using their own property in a way that is inappropriate, abnormal or dangerous?" Stevenson asked. "The key element is that it disturbs the use and enjoyment. In this case, the defendants’ actions affected [the Ericsons’] health, comfort, safety and property rights."

source
http://www.sltrib.com/home/1778897-155/ ... sons-judge
• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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Posts: 6093
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