Idaho Falls Citizen Journalism

Leslie Shumate's picture


A progression of subjects all related to Salmon’s air quality consumed much of the Salmon City Council December 6 meeting. 

During the first public comment opportunity of the evening, Councilmember-elect Robin Phillips introduced the subject of a proposed air-quality digital sign by saying she is totally against spending an anticipated $5,000 plus on-going costs for an electronic sign. She said such a sign, controlled from Idaho Falls by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), constitutes a public safety hazard if placed in Salmon’s downtown business area and is just a “feel good measure.” She said she agrees with retiring Councilman Russ Chinske that relaying public air-quality alerts by way of the radio station, email and/or texting is far more effective and cost efficient.

Phillips suggested the council contact the Idaho Congressional delegation about funds for the woodstove voucher program which she thinks would truly alleviate the air-quality problems. In the past the DEQ has given eligible participants wishing to replace an old wood stove $1,000 towards a new EPA approved model. Phillips said to suggest a reduction of the use of woodstoves would be to change a local lifestyle and negatively impact firewood harvesters’ income. Phillips also agreed with retiring Councilman Rob Jackson’s suggestion that the City Development Code be amended to do away with electronic signs which distract the attention of drivers in the core commercial section of town.

Later Jackson recommended the council have the Planning and Zoning Commission look into the current Development Code in terms of modifying it to ban flashing electronic signs. In the interest of preventing light pollution he said he’d like to see the city require a special use permit before approving any new informational signs. Current signs would be grandfathered.

Councilman Jim Bockelman is a member of the Air Shed Advisory group that is seeking ways to improve Salmon’s air-quality. He suggested placing limits on the amount of light produced by any new signs as a way of controlling lumen levels.

City Clerk Mary Benton reminded the council that because Main Street is part of a state highway the downtown Main Street corridor is regulated by the state therefore; before making any changes to the code state laws need to be researched and considered.

One recommendation from the Air Shed Advisory Committee, and endorsed by the DEQ, was to place a digital sign somewhere on Main Street that would advise residents of current air-quality readings. Chinske has been an opponent of yet another digital flashing sign but, in the event the DEQ decides to put one in place, he has talked to the hospital administration about using its present Main Street sign for the air-quality information. He said there is nothing definite to report yet however, there is an avenue of possibility at the hospital sign location. 

Chinske commented that one of the great things about Salmon is being able to see the stars. He would like to see a minimum amount of lumens and said he will support anything that minimizes light pollution in town.

Jackson made a motion to instruct the P&Z to develop code language to make a special use permit necessary in order to install reader boards or flashing signs and to limit sign brightness to a certain level of lumens. After discussion on P&Z procedural requirements Mayor Leo Marshall recommended council members read the sign requirements in the present code, then reschedule the discussion. Jackson’s motion was turned down with four opposed, Councilmen Ken Hill, Bockelman, Neal James and Jim Baker and two in favor, Jackson and Chinske.

Bockelman told the council the DEQ is willing to supply the city with “Turn Off the Engine” clean air signs. Jackson, an automotive mechanic for 30 years, said in his experience the stigma associated with the toxic dangers related to letting a vehicle stand and idle are no longer valid unless it is allowed to run for several hours. He said vehicles produced since 1996 contribute very little in the way of emissions to the air except when started when the engines are semi cold. He said in his opinion the signs would be a waste of time and money and offered studies to back his statements.

Bockelman said accepting the signs would show the community is being proactive in its desire to reduce air pollution. 

Chinske made a motion to work with the DEQ’s “Turn Off the Engine” sign campaign and it passed five to one with Jackson casting the solitary ‘no’ vote.

On December 1, the Public Broadcasting Service televised a segment called “The Air We Breathe.” It focused on the Salmon area.

Bockelman said an informal Facebook survey of opinion has been conducted since that broadcast. The majority of responses indicated a non-belief in any wintertime air problems and attributed any air pollution to forest fires and Forest Service burning. A number of program viewers said they had never heard of any local air quality problems and some expressed anger over any perceived attempts to limit the use of woodstoves. Others voiced concerns about air quality related to health and many of those surveyed wanted more information. 

Bockelman said the Air Shed Advisory meetings are open to the public and that the committee has room for more members. 

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