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Assembly Begins Fine-tuning Air-quality Regulations’ Enforcement Provisions

KUAC file photo

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly got to work Thursday night fine-tuning an ordinance that spells out how the borough’s new air-quality regulations would be enforced. Assembly members tried to balance the need to enforce the regs and reduce air pollution against the need to get the public to go along with them. And to give a break to people who can’t afford to upgrade their heating system.

Assembly members worked past their usual 11:30 p.m. quitting time debating numerous amendments to an ordinance crafted by John Davies, Kathryn Dodge and Janice Golub that sets out the carrots and sticks that the borough would use to clean up the local air pollution.

They began by narrowing the area where most of the pollution-control efforts will be focused. An amendment by Guy Sattley established an “air-quality control zone” that’s roughly the same as the EPA non-attainment area, with some adjustments, such as excluding high-elevation areas.

“It gets the onus of some of these rules away from them,” Sattley said.

Diane Hutchinson supported the amendment, both because it would define the main problem area, and because it will help build support among residents who may believe the air-quality regs are “heavy-handed.”

“If we don’t get buy-in by the community, there’s nothing that we’re going to do that’s going to solve our air-quality problems,” Hutchinson said.

The Assembly defeated amendments by Lance Roberts to restrict the ways in which residents could make complaints with the borough about excessive smoke. And to allow property owners and managers to forego reporting their old inefficient heating system to the borough, and to allow them instead to file a so-called NO-ASH affadavit to exempt them from air-quality alert restrictions – after they’ve been contacted by the borough. No Ash stands for No Other Adequate Source of Heat.

“This is the Fairbanks North Star Borough,” Roberts said, “and most people don’t want to register things with the government.”

John Davies says the amendment is unnecessary, and that it would undercut the purpose of the air-quality regs.

“It also sends a kind of a message that ‘you don’t really need to do this,’ ” he said,  “and that’s what worries me.”

The Assembly approved Davies’ amendment to add a provision that would make people suffering economic hardship eligible for a NO-ASH exemption.

The Assembly also approved an amendment by Kathryn Dodge that eliminated a requirement for noncompliant woodstoves to be replaced when property is sold. Local realtors objected to the provision, claiming it added an unfair burden to the sale of real estate. Dodge said her amendment would simply require property sellers to disclose to the buyer, and the borough air-quality division, if the home they’re selling has a noncompliant woodstove.

“What it does,” Dodge said, “is it at least discloses to the buyer (that) this is the situation, these are the rules in our community, this stove complies in this way or doesn’t comply in this way, there are these times you might not be able to burn it...”

The Assembly also lowered the fine for failing to remove an old noncompliant woodstove from $1,000 to $500.

The members had quit as midnight approached. So they’ll take up where they left off in their Feb. 26 meeting.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.