Those who burn yard waste on their property in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties will be required to acquire a burn permit for the first time this season.

When backyard burn season begins Saturday, the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District will issue free smoke management permits to those who aren't already required to acquire a burn permit from their local fire district.

Air Pollution Control Officer Richard Stedman said the permits are a way to keep track of the number of backyard burns in the tri-county area in an effort to better understand the impact on local air quality. Before this year, Stedman said, the only way the air district could estimate the amount of burning being done was through complaints.

Stedman said the air district's permit program was designed to be as user-friendly and streamlined as possible by allowing people to go online to apply for, and receive, the free permits on the district's website at www.montereybaycleanair.orgorwww.mbuacd.org. Applicants without access to a computer can also seek a permit over the phone by calling 647-9411 from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"We think this is a cost-effective program and we hope to learn from it and make it as efficient as possible," Stedman said. "Our biggest concern is nuisance issues related to air quality. We believe this is a good step in the right direction."

The air district's board of directors in September approved revisions to the district's open burning rules to address the nuisance and air quality issues arising from residential backyard burning, including the permit program.

Stedman said the estimated $37,000 cost of the permit program was paid for using district surplus funds from fines and penalties collected over the years.

District rules prohibit backyard burning on parcels less than a half-acre in size except where yard waste pickup is not available. Waivers from the parcel size requirement can be granted by district staff.

The rules also require a minimum 100-foot setback from any structure on adjacent properties.

Backyard burning is generally limited to unincorporated areas, and not within city limits.

Before starting a backyard burn, residents are required to call the state Air Resource Board at 800-CAL-BURN after 4 p.m. on the day before to check on whether burning is allowed on a particular day.

Stedman said air district staff is conducting a public outreach effort aimed at getting residents to consider using alternative methods of disposing yard waste that don't include burning it. Those include chipping, composting, using the waste as animal feed and hauling it to landfills.

The burn season runs through April 30, and there is no limit to the number of burn permits residents can acquire.

Jim Johnson can be reached at 753-6753 or jjohnson@montereyherald.com.


Backyard burn season permits

· For more information on the permit program or to apply for a permit, see www.montereybaycleanair.org or www.mbuapcd.org, or call the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District at 647-9711.