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Huffing about puffing: An idle pastime?

Pile that snow around those trees – if it’s clean. This is Action Line’s weak attempt. Hey, it’s something!

Dear Action Line: My neighbor in Bayfield leaves his diesel truck idling – morning and evening – for over an hour almost every day. Yesterday, he left it idling from 5:15 to 6:47 p.m. Is this legal? And what can be done about this egregious polluter? – Dieseled to Death

Dear Dieseled: These questions just keep getting easier. All you have to do is knock on his door and discuss the problem. Make a deal if necessary: You keep your dog out of his yard, he limits his warm-up and cool-down times.

There. We done?

Wait, it’s coming to Action Line. ... Oh, so you don’t have that kind of relationship. Too bad. Isn’t there something you have in common? Some ice-breaker? Maybe you both like Ladderball? Oatmeal cookies? Led Zeppelin? Nora Roberts novels?

All right, if we have to get the police involved, here’s the deal:

It is illegal. But not for the reason you might think. And, as with every illegal action, the authorities have some discretion on how it is enforced.

Colorado Revised Statute 42-4-1206, in place since 1995, says that “a person driving or in charge of an unlocked motor vehicle shall not permit it to stand unattended without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition, removing the key from the ignition and effectively setting the brake thereon.” (In 2016, an exemption was created to allow the starting of locked cars with remote starting units.)

This so-called “puffer law” was created to cut down on vehicle theft. Somewhere around 20,000 cars are stolen per year in Colorado, and the rate of stolen cars later used in more serious crimes is alarming.

La Plata County takes an “educational approach to puffing vehicles” in the unincorporated areas, said county Public Affairs Officer Megan Graham. When deputies see an unlocked, vacant vehicle idling, they often will talk to the owner if possible.

“And property theft is on the rise in La Plata County over the past year,” Graham said. “There has been an uptick in all kinds of pilfering – mail, personal property, you name it. So puff at your own risk!”

Pollution is another concern that some of us take seriously. Because of air quality issues, Aspen limits idling to 5 minutes, Basalt to 2 and Telluride to 30 seconds (3 minutes in cold weather). There are no such additional restrictions in Southwest Colorado, but the state law is applicable in Bayfield, Durango, Cortez and all other local police jurisdictions.

A great debate rages online about the importance of warming up a diesel engine. Older engines may take longer. But even in cold weather, less than 10 minutes should be plenty.

“Modern diesels usually only need about 3-5 minutes of warmup for temps above 0 and slightly longer for below 0, which we don’t see very often,” said Ian Stewart and Dennis Rypkema, co-owners of Durango Autoworks, in an email. “60 to 70 minutes is ridiculously long and is just wasting fuel and pumping out extra emissions.”

So, Dieseled, go tell your neighbor that, and have a friendly, level-headed chat. Bring some oatmeal cookies or banana bread with you.

Dear Action Line: On the rare days when we get snow, I have found myself taking shovelfuls off the driveway or sidewalk and throwing them toward our newly planted trees. Other than the damage this is doing to my back when I’m twisting to make these shovel throws, is this a good thing? Does this extra snow help the trees or hurt them? – Twist and Shout

Dear Twist: The answer is “yes, but ... ,” said Darrin Parmenter, La Plata County Extension director and shrewd cribbage player. (Woe are we who were looking forward to the Snowdown cribbage tournament – or anything Snowdown, for that matter.)

“There are pluses and minuses, but the pluses outweigh the minuses,” Parmenter said. He listed the pros and cons.

On the “shovel it high” side:

Moisture: Melting snow is the ideal rate for moisture absorption by the tree roots.Insulation: Snow is mostly air, which blocks the cold from moving from one place to another. Soil that has a foot of snow on it can stay at 32 degrees. In spring, it has the opposite effect, keeping soils from warming too quickly, which in turn would trick the plant into putting out fruit buds or leaves too soon. On the “wait, not so fast” side:

Salts: This is the biggest one. Plants don’t like salt and ice-melting chemicals are full of it.Voles: These subterranean rodents use the snow as a pathway. If they find shrubs or a tree with tender bark, they can do a ton of damage by chewing on them.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301.

Salts: This is the biggest one. Plants don’t like salt and ice-melting chemicals are full of it.Voles: These subterranean rodents use the snow as a pathway. If they find shrubs or a tree with tender bark, they can do a ton of damage by chewing on them.

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