In my mail today was yet another harassing letter from the Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency admonishing me over yet another anonymous "citizen complaint" that on February 6, someone saw smoke coming out of my chimney. According to them I somehow exceeded the "maximum opacity" allowable and that simply will not do. I have no idea how I am supposed to measure such a thing, but that's a moot point...
Never mind that on Thursday, February 6, we were into our fourth day of consecutive below freezing days, winds howling out of the Columbia River Gorge putting wind chills in the single digits.
I use a modern efficient woodstove to heat my house in extreme cold. The heat pump does just fine till it starts getting cold, and once it gets below freezing the efficiency drops dramatically. If the temperature outside is below fifty, the stove is usable, but I normally wait to use it until it gets really cold. Once I get it started and heated up, it can cook for days without emitting very little smoke at all...we usually have heat waves coming out of the chimney. In cold weather when you stick in a log, you get a steam plume for a few minutes until the water in the log evaporates, but steam is not smoke.
I wrote to the SWWCAA a year ago in January after repeated harassing letters from them at that time. Here's the text of that letter.....
Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency
11815 NE 99th St. Ste. 1294, Vancouver, WA 98682
Attention: Wes Safford, Duane Van Johnson, et al
I am in receipt of two harassing letters from your agency, one dated January 21, 2013 from Mr. Van Johnson and the other dated January 22 from Mr. Safford. Both of these letters are the direct result of yet another anonymous complaint by one of my neighbors to your agency, and the failure of your agency to make even a modicum of effort to find out what the facts are.
I legally and efficiently heat my home in very cold weather with a modern woodstove that exceeds EPA standards by a factor of four. Your agency should know this because I bought it with the assistance of your woodstove replacement program in February 2009. I told your agency at that time that I was upgrading the primary source of heat for my home and that I intended to continue using it when my heat pump becomes too inefficient to heat the house by itself.
The long and short of this matter is that your agency is sponsoring anonymous harassment “complaints” from one neighbor who simply will not accept that I kill trees and burn them for heat. They have complained anonymously before (and told me so) and in fact enjoy the thrill of anonymously having public agencies like Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency do their harassing for them.
That however presents a problem for your agency when you willingly agree to harass me about a perfectly legal activity. I have never burned anything but clean, seasoned firewood and I follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions on how to properly use the stove. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade the windows, doors, insulation and auxiliary forced air system in a house that was designed and built to be heated with wood.
I request and require that you make a permanent note in my file at your agency, that I am in complete compliance with all laws and regulations with my woodstove, and that I do indeed use it for primary heating in extreme cold weather. I require that you stop sending me harassing letters, and refrain from sending me any more insulting and harassing correspondence, or I will file a complaint with the local courts and with the Attorney General of the State of Washington.
Thank you for your full attention to this matter.
This agency has a website where you can make an anonymous complaint...http://www.swcleanair.org/
If you open their e-complaint form, it asks you the following question:
Do you wish to remain anonymous (RCW42.56.240)?
If you check that box, you can make the same complaint over and over again, and the Agency never has to bother getting back to you to tell you your complaint in completely unfounded.
If they can do someone's unlawful and unreasonable harassment of someone else, then it gives the Agency a purpose.
RCW stands for the Revised Code of Washington, and it too has a website. Let's take a look at that section of the law, shall we??
Investigative, law enforcement, and crime victims.
The following investigative, law enforcement, and crime victim information is exempt from public inspection and copying under this chapter:
(1) Specific intelligence information and specific investigative records compiled by investigative, law enforcement, and penology agencies, and state agencies vested with the responsibility to discipline members of any profession, the nondisclosure of which is essential to effective law enforcement or for the protection of any person's right to privacy;
(2) Information revealing the identity of persons who are witnesses to or victims of crime or who file complaints with investigative, law enforcement, or penology agencies, other than the commission, if disclosure would endanger any person's life, physical safety, or property. If at the time a complaint is filed the complainant, victim, or witness indicates a desire for disclosure or nondisclosure, such desire shall govern. However, all complaints filed with the commission about any elected official or candidate for public office must be made in writing and signed by the complainant under oath;
(3) Any records of investigative reports prepared by any state, county, municipal, or other law enforcement agency pertaining to sex offenses contained in chapter 9A.44 RCW or sexually violent offenses as defined in RCW 71.09.020, which have been transferred to the Washington association of sheriffs and police chiefs for permanent electronic retention and retrieval pursuant to RCW 40.14.070(2)(b);
(4) License applications under RCW 9.41.070; copies of license applications or information on the applications may be released to law enforcement or corrections agencies;
(5) Information revealing the identity of child victims of sexual assault who are under age eighteen. Identifying information means the child victim's name, address, location, photograph, and in cases in which the child victim is a relative or stepchild of the alleged perpetrator, identification of the relationship between the child and the alleged perpetrator;
(6) The statewide gang database referenced in RCW 43.43.762;
(7) Data from the electronic sales tracking system established in RCW 69.43.165;
(8) Information submitted to the statewide unified sex offender notification and registration program under RCW 36.28A.040(6) by a person for the purpose of receiving notification regarding a registered sex offender, including the person's name, residential address, and e-mail address;
(9) Personally identifying information collected by law enforcement agencies pursuant to local security alarm system programs and vacation crime watch programs. Nothing in this subsection shall be interpreted so as to prohibit the legal owner of a residence or business from accessing information regarding his or her residence or business; and
(10) The felony firearm offense conviction database of felony firearm offenders established in RCW 43.43.822; and
(11) The identity of a state employee or officer who has in good faith filed a complaint with an ethics board, as provided in RCW 42.52.410, or who has in good faith reported improper governmental action, as defined in RCW 42.40.020, to the auditor or other public official, as defined in RCW 42.40.020; and
(12) The following security threat group information collected and maintained by the department of corrections pursuant to RCW 72.09.745: (a) Information that could lead to the identification of a person's security threat group status, affiliation, or activities; (b) information that reveals specific security threats associated with the operation and activities of security threat groups; and (c) information that identifies the number of security threat group members, affiliates, or associates.
[2013 c 315 § 2; 2013 c 190 § 7; 2013 c 183 § 1; 2012 c 88 § 1. Prior: 2010 c 266 § 2; 2010 c 182 § 5; 2008 c 276 § 202; 2005 c 274 § 404.]
Reviser's note: This section was amended by 2013 c 183 § 1, 2013 c 190 § 7, and by 2013 c 315 § 2, each without reference to the other. All amendments are incorporated in the publication of this section under RCW 1.12.025(2). For rule of construction, see RCW 1.12.025(1).
Finding -- 2013 c 190: See note following RCW 42.52.410.
Severability -- Part headings, subheadings not law -- 2008 c 276: See notes following RCW 36.28A.200.
Nothing in that statute gives any agency a license to harass a private citizen, and nothing in that statute makes heating with firewood a criminal matter requiring this level of whistle blower anonymous protection.
What to do?? On one hand I am both a Retired Military Veteran as well as disabled, both are protected classes as spelled out in a different section of the RCW. On the gripping hand I am offended as a taxpayer that these idiots are going to force me to waste a whole bunch of my own damned money, and then some, just to get them to leave me alone. The urge to go hurl chunks of well seasoned maple through their plate glass windows is strong.....
I already sent a well worded e-mail, with a copy of my letter of last year attached, to my local City Council Critter. City Council has a member who sits on the Board of SWWCAA, so they have a dog in this fight, and cannot simply ignore something like this, especially when I told him I thought hiring a lawyer and suing was a really good next step.
There is another angle to this as well. As many here know, I built myself a nice workshop here 2 years ago. I went through every single bit of process required by the City to approve the permit application, the did issue a permit (after I paid a substantial fee) and I had all of the required inspections done, and then some. As many will recall we had one neighbor who simply would not be placated and instigated a fairly good ruckus that I had thought largely subsided. Then one day I bumped into our Mayor Pro-Tem, and it turned out my shop was on the top of his list and he informed me it was "technically legal" even though the permit had been issued and work was in progress.
I finished the shop, closed the permit and had thought things had all died back down. Then last December 8th, a Monday night, our City Council had an item on their agenda to make some minor modifications to the building code. It took me until January when the changes hit the books to find out what they were online, but in short, they changed the code to limit the height of out buildings to 12', which of course would prevent a building like mine from ever going up again, but mine is grandfathered in so no problem. I figured that was that, they had their little moral victory and I had my shop, and hoped once again that things would calm back down. And then I get another harassing letter in the mail, and I have no doubt about who made the anonymous "citizen complaint".
Again, what to do??
For now I will wait to see what my City Council Critter comes up with, and see if a Board Member can convince these idiots to leave me in peace. If not, I suppose I need to hire an attorney and sue their tits off. I'm not sure what it would cost to sic some hungry young shark on their asses, but I think it would be worth a $500 retainer to find out. Discovery would be a lot of fun, forcing this agency to either reveal who is it that made these complaints (internet records, anyone?) as well as naming all of the Board Members personally along with the City itself for allowing this to continue. $500 would be cheap for that much entertainment, in my book...
Comments and suggestions are all appreciated....