UNION GAP –
Homeowners in Okanogan County will soon have better options than burning when disposing of tree limbs and brush.
The Washington Department of Ecology awarded Okanogan County’s solid waste department $85,000 to help purchase a new wood chipper and steam treatment equipment that will turn limbs, brush and other green waste into chips and mulch. Steaming the wood chips will kill any apple maggot larvae that might be present – preventing the spread of the agricultural pest and allowing the wood chips to be transported across the apple maggot quarantine zone that splits Okanogan County.
Along with protecting Washington’s apple harvest, chipping and steaming green waste means the material won’t go into a burn pile. Although burning is an effective tool to kill apple maggots, communities in Okanogan County are already heavily hit by air pollution from wood smoke. Ecology sees the chipper and heat treatment as a way to reduce particulate pollution and protect public health.
“People living in north central Washington already face real threats to their health from wildfire and woodstove smoke,” said Sanjay Barik, Ecology’s air quality manager for central Washington. “We want to do everything we can to protect air quality in these areas and help them breathe easier.”
Using the Ecology grant, Okanogan County’s solid waste department bought a new, $52,000 wood chipper capable of handling trees and branches as large as 12 inches in diameter. The county spent the remaining $33,000 to construct a steam treatment vessel for the wood chips. Although chipping may kill some apple maggot larvae, steam and heat is needed to meet Washington State Department of Agriculture standards designed to ensure every maggot is killed.
In November 2018, the western half of Okanogan County was added to the quarantine area
. Winthrop and Twisp are in the quarantine area – meaning the apple maggot may already be present in those communities – while Omak is in the pest-free area. This prevents transporting untreated green waste or untreated wood chips between these areas.
“Burning brush is easy, but it’s certainly not healthy,” said Kent Kovalenko, Okanogan County’s solid waste manager. “We want to give people a better option for getting rid of their wood waste.”
Okanogan County plans to hold its first chipping event with the new equipment later this year.