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Idaho Falls personnel from the State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) informed the October 4 meeting of the Salmon City Council that a digital sign to display air quality information should be installed somewhere on Salmon’s Main Street. The recommendation came from the local Air Quality Advisory Steering Committee which was formed as a result of last year’s council decision to join DEQ’s PM Advance Program.

PM stands for particulate matter which according to the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Act cannot be allowed to exceed a 12 microgram yearly average of measurable particulates per cubic meter of air, or daily average of 35 micrograms.

Ryan Rossi, DEQ Air Quality Monitoring Coordinator for this area, presented a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining payment and operational responsibilities for sign maintenance. The draft was turned over to City Attorney Fred Snook for his review. Meanwhile the evening’s focus was on potential sign locations. One prerequisite is that an internet on-site connection be available so that the Idaho Falls DEQ office can post hourly updates and/alerts on the local sign. Rossi said knowing air quality levels are especially important in the wintertime when it is more difficult to visually identify polluted air.

The first suggestion for the sign’s location was either City Hall where it could be tied into the city’s internet connection or across the street from City Hall just east of the Main Street Bridge.

Mayor Leo Marshall said that City Clerk Mary Benton’s chief concern is related to the security issues of allowing someone to access the city’s internet system. She said there is also a secondary concern which is overloading the city’s internet system. The mayor said he was worried that a sign on either side of the street would add yet another driver distraction to that section of Main Street already known to be accident prone.

Councilman Russ Chinske wondered about connecting the air quality sign through either the High School or hospital digital signs. He doubted the effectiveness of a flashing sign compared to radio, internet or TV information. Chinske labeled the flashing signs “annoying” and said one should not be located anywhere near the Salmon River. In his opinion if another such sign is needed it should be connected to one that already exists.

He was told by Rossi that the existing signs are not compatible in that the air quality sign would have to be hard wired into a computer so it can accept hourly updates.

Councilman Jim Bockelman concurred saying the hospital’s Main Street digital sign is not compatible. As a member of the local Steering Committee which recommended the signage he reminded the council that the clean air effort is part of fulfilling compliance with federal law.

In August of 2016 the Salmon City Council was told that joining the PM Advance Program shows the EPA a good faith effort and helps avoid being listed as a nonattainment area. DEQ officials told the council that if a non-attainment designation were to occur, the community would lose all flexibility in establishing control measures and the state would be forced to implement regulations which could lead to economic development losses as well as the loss of Federal Highway Administration and state transportation funding.

Mayor Marshall said he is attempting to contact the owners of the old Deluxe Motel sign at the corner of Church and Main streets but has had no response as yet. His reasoning is that the pole probably has a power connection. He noted that it is also located at a stop light therefore; driver distraction would not be as much of a problem as at other locations.

Another recommendation from the mayor was to locate the sign on the corner of the new Library since the building is connected to the internet.

Rossi liked the Library suggestion and stated an agreement with the landowner would be needed for any location as well as an agreement between the city and DEQ for sign expenses and maintenance. The DEQ goal is to have a digital sign in place by this Winter.

City Councilman Rob Jackson said that based on the city’s new development code any new sign would have to pass Planning and Zoning approval. He also doubted that approval for use of the old Deluxe Motel sign would be granted. He recommended talking with Acting P&Z Administrator Teresa Morton.

In the meantime City Attorney Snook will report his findings on DEQ’s draft MOU at the council’s October 18 meeting.

Rossi then relayed the August-September data taken during this year’s wildfire season.

He said the preferred 24 hour standard for Winter is 34.5 micrograms of measurable particulate matter per cubic meter of air. On August 5th the PM reading was 59.6. On September 4th the PM level was at 110. Other wildfire generated readings were as high as 60 and 95. Rossi said that a lot of this summer’s concentrations being breathed by residents were similar to wintertime conditions in Salmon. He said, “It just looks worse [with smoke] because it’s that same condition for 20,000 feet into the atmosphere.” The PM statistics presented were from a monitor that collects data once every three days. The DEQ also has a monitor that collects hourly data.

The local Airshed Advisory Committee will be meeting on October 12 for more discussion on sign locations. Rossi said he would like to have approval of the MOU and a more definite sign location by the 18th so that bids for installation can be advertised.

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