Gebbers Farms paid a $2,500 penalty to the state Department of Ecology for burning agricultural debris in November 2018, in violation of a burn ban imposed to protect air quality.
The Gebbers Farms penalty was one of 20 penalties of $1,000 or more Ecology issued in the fourth quarter of 2019 — a total of almost $2.149 million. It was the only penalty in Okanogan County.
Ecology received two complaints about the burning in Omak. Although Gebbers Farms had an active agricultural-pile burn permit from Ecology, the company was required to check for restrictions and daily burn conditions before igniting the pile, according to Ecology’s penalty notice.
Ecology makes a daily decision based on air quality as to whether burning is permissible, but in this case, not only was it a no-burn day, but Ecology had declared a Stage 1 air-quality burn ban, according to Joye Redfield-Wilder, communications manager for Ecology’s central region. Under a Stage 1 ban, outdoor burning and the use of non-certified wood stoves are prohibited because air quality is heading into an unhealthy range and not expected to clear soon, she said.
Travis Schoenwald, Gebbers’ contact person for the permit, acknowledged that Gebbers employees had burned agricultural debris on Nov. 26, 2018. Schoenwald told Ecology that he opted not to discuss specifics of the violation because of “the lack of any real defense.” In an email to Ecology, Schoenwald said he’d made sure that the employees knew they weren’t supposed to burn, but “sometimes they feel they just have to get it done.” He called it “poor oversight.”
The most egregious violation resulted in a $1.956 million fine to a company in Tacoma that mismanaged hazardous waste, resulting in two fires. A company in Wenatchee was fined $8,500 for violating an agricultural-burn permit because they burned prohibited materials including plastics, insulation, asphalt roofing, appliances and household garbage.