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Neighbors fuming over Golden Valley farm's smoke


BUTCH MERIWETHER/Courtesy
Kingman Farms has been clearing land and burning brush at the southern edge of the former Pravada subdivision. Smoke from the burning brush has entered nearby homes and caused problems for some residents.

KINGMAN - When smoke gets in your eyes, it's not pleasant. When it invades your home and forces you to shelter in one room it becomes more than a nuisance.

Golden Valley resident Sheryl Griesinger said she and her neighbors near the intersection of Aquarius and Centennial roads have been nearly smoked out of their homes for the last eight days because Kingman Farms is clearing and burning brush in preparation for new fields.

"I'm at a loss as to what to do," Griesinger said. "They've been doing this since last Monday and we've been struggling."

The fires aren't even really burning, Griesinger said. The recent rains have made things so wet, that the fires are just smoldering.

"It's like living in a forest fire," said John Southernland, Griesinger's neighbor. "I have no problem with Rhodes farming. I understand they own the land. They can do whatever they want with the land. But they could at least be a good neighbor."

"People have told us, 'Well, this is Golden Valley.' We knew that when we moved out here," Griesinger said. "We don't have a problem with the dust and it would be all right if they burned everything in one big pile at one time, but it's been eight days of this. We may have to move and we don't want to move. This is our dream home."

Griesinger said she's been confined to the one room in her house that has an air conditioning unit that can filter out the smoke. The rest of her house is cooled by an evaporative cooler, which requires an open window in order to function properly.

She said she's contacted Dick Mills, the general manager at Kingman Farms, who was very receptive, but told her that he had the proper permits and was following the Golden Valley Fire Department's rules.

"We've been in total compliance," Mills said. "I can't control which way the wind blows. I can't control Mother Nature."

Griesinger said she's contacted officials at Golden Valley Fire Department, Mohave County and at the state level about the issue, but they all say nothing can be done because the farm has the proper burn permits and is an agricultural business. Agricultural businesses have a little more leeway when it comes to air pollution than a normal business.

Golden Valley Fire Chief Tom O'Donohue confirmed that Kingman Farms has the proper permits and has been following the department's rules.

"They're operating under the guidelines," O'Donohue said. "We can ask them to stop if it's becoming a nuisance to the neighbors or if the weather conditions change (and it becomes a hazard.)"

According to the burn permit rules posted on GVFD's website, all material to be burned must be at least 50 feet from any structure and a 20-foot area surrounding the material must be cleared of all weeds and other flammable debris. Burn piles can be no larger than three feet high and four feet across. All piles have to be inspected by the department before a permit will be issued and the pile can be lit. Permits are good for three days and burning can only be done during daylight hours and only if weather permits.

Griesinger said the farm has been burning as many as seven piles at one time. And they smolder well into the night.

She said she's called the fire department several times in the last week after the sun went down and the fires were still burning.

"As soon as the sun goes down, you can just see the smoke settle to the ground," Southerland said.

"They're not supposed to be burning after dark," Griesinger said.

Mills said the farm does not burn after dark.

"Can't they just pile it into one large pile and then burn it or haul it off to the dump? That's what we do with our brush," Griesinger said.

Mills said he did ask if the company could pile the brush in one area and then burn it, but the fire department said it presented too much of a fire hazard.

Hauling it off to the dump wasn't feasible, Mills said.

According to Mark Shaffer, the public information officer for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, there isn't much his department can do either.

"We have a lot of problems with this out in Yuma," Shaffer said.

Yuma is known as the "winter vegetable capital of America."

Agricultural businesses in the rural areas of Arizona, such as Yuma and Golden Valley, don't fall under the same ADEQ rules as farms in the Phoenix metropolitan area, Shaffer said.

"We usually delegate that responsibility (for burn permits) to the local fire departments," he said.

However, Griesinger was welcome to file a complaint with the department, Shaffer said.

"The best way to do that is online," he said.

To file a complaint visit the department's website at www.adeq.gov and click on the "compliant" tab on the right side of the screen.



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