Columbia County wheat farmer fined for illegal burn

Wheat stubble shows the effects of fire.

Wheat stubble shows the effects of fire. Photo by Jeff Horner.

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A Columbia County farmer has been fined $10,000 for burning wheat stubble without an agricultural permit.

Phillip Klein, owner and operator of Servi Dei Farms, burned about 300 acres in the fall of 2012 before his application for a permit had been approved.

Department of Ecology spokesperson Brook Beeler said today that Klein applied for a permit Oct. 30 with the Columbia County Conservation District, the authority responsible for issuing burn permits in Columbia County. When district officials went to inspect the farm on Nov. 5, they found Klein had already burned.

Under state law, the Department of Ecology or its delegates must approve all agricultural burning. Once a permit has been approved, Ecology determines which farmers can burn on a given day by considering wind direction, the ability of smoke to disperse and other factors. The process is designed to limit smoke and particulate matter that can be harmful to people.

Fines for illegal burning are set based on a number of factors, including the number of acres burned and whether the farmer has violated burn laws in the past. Beeler said Klein’s fine was set at $10,000 in part because he had applied for and been approved for burn permits in previous years.

“He knew the rules, he just didn’t follow them on this occasion,” she said.

Servi Dei Farms has 30 days to appeal the penalty to the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.

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