Wood boilers legal… for now

(Will Dendis)

(Will Dendis)

Concern over emissions from wood-burning boilers and stoves is driving proposed new regulations by the EPA and neighborly disputes right here in Saugerties.

At its April 2 meeting, the Town Board responded to a long-running dispute between two Saugerties residents. In its findings, the board concurred with building inspector Alvah Weeks that the wood-burning boiler system installed in 2008 by Larry Swart of Route 212 was in compliance with town and state code. Additionally, the 46 wood-burning boilers installed in Saugerties since 2003 were deemed legal as were older boilers if they were in compliance with the town zoning codes in effect at the time of their installation.

The decision came at the end of a six-year dispute between Swart and neighbor Patricia Luo over her claim that his heating system was an old-style burner that was polluting her air and casting ash on her property. She was asking the town to order Swart to remove his boiler and ban all wood-burning boilers in Saugerties.


Addressing the board March 19, she quoted a 2005 position taken by Eliot Spitzer, then attorney general. In an op/ed article in the New York Times, Spitzer supported the position that, “the smoke that these boilers produce is as bad as it looks and smells. Besides causing breathing problems and eye, nose and throat irritations, the smoke contains fine particles that have been linked to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.”

Alvah Weeks was asked to investigate the situation. After visiting the property and meeting with the DEC, he concluded that the boiler in question was in full compliance with Saugerties zoning codes regarding its distance from Luo’s property and the type of wood it burns.

That’s the end of the town’s involvement, but the state may still have something to say; the Department of Health will be visiting the Swart and Luo properties to test the air quality in the near future.

According to the New York Times, “The EPA estimates that as much as 13 percent of all soot pollution in the U.S. is the result of inefficient wood-fired stoves and burners.”

The EPA is proposing rule changes that would “dramatically tighten emissions requirements on new wood-powered heaters,” states the Times.

In this dispute, called a “fire fight” by the AP, we can picture Saugerties as a microcosm of small, rural towns throughout the United States.