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Argument boils over into court

A Woodbury man filed a civil suit against the city after he was ordered to stop using his outdoor boiler because it was considered a public nuisance.

Brad Vier, who lives in the 6300 block of Bailey Road, said he requested permission to install the boiler, which was used to provide heating to his home, two years ago and there was no ordinance against it then.

But city officials said he didn't request the proper permit and that the smoke and particles from the boiler were a public hazard.

"We did some research and really made the determination, from a public health standpoint, it wasn't a facility we wanted in the community," senior City Planner Melissa Douglas said.

Vier installed the boiler in 2008 and after operating it for about two months, a neighbor complained to the city about smoke it produced.

"The city changed their mind to cover their butt because of a complaint," he said.

Woodbury staff then sent Vier a letter informing him of the nuisance ordinance and that the boiler was a code violation, Douglas said.

Vier is now disputing that order and is asking for compensation for the cost of the boiler and additional attorney fees, he said.

"The city told me I did not need a permit and then seven months later, after a complaint about smoke, is when the city changed their mind, I guess.

"I'm getting looked at like I did something wrong and I did nothing wrong," Vier said.

Though the city had no specific ordinance against an outdoor wood boiler, Douglas said it fell under the nuisance ordinance, which prohibits smoke, particles and fumes from spreading onto adjacent properties.

But later the city amended its nuisance ordinance to include language banning outdoor wood boilers, she added.

"It wasn't like a knee-jerk reaction. We did a lot of research on this issue," Douglas said.

Vier filed a summary judgment in Washington County District Court May 6, where his attorney, Paul Merwin, explains that since the city amended its ordinance after he installed the boiler, there was no wrongdoing on his part.

"I went to the city prior and I asked permission," he said. "It was two and a half years ago and the city said there was no ordinance against it."

In the two months that he operated the boiler, Vier said his heating bill was cut in half and he could've saved hundreds of dollars from the time the city ordered him to stop operating it.

Vier's residence doesn't have a basement and his heating costs skyrocket during the winter, he said. The boiler was the most cost effective alternative he said he had.

"It's a lot better than burning wood in your fireplace," he said.

But Douglas said the smoke produced from it is a public nuisance to neighbors, especially those with respiratory problems.

Vier brought the court action seeking judgment that he didn't violate the Minnesota state building code or the city's nuisance code, according to court documents.

" ... the city code provisions were changed after the fact and in an effort to target plaintiff," court documents state.

After the city files its own summary judgment, the court will then either make a decision from there or schedule a trial.

"We wouldn't look at that lightly in terms of asking him to remove it if we didn't feel there was significant pollution with its continuing operation," Douglas said.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.