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Assembly OKs Air-Quality Ordinance; Dissenter Predicts Voter Backlash

Tim Ellis/KUAC

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly passed a sweeping air-quality ordinance Thursday night that supporters hope will finally begin to clean up Fairbanks’s wintertime air pollution. Most members agreed the ordinance isn’t perfect, but that it’s a good start.

After nearly six hours of debate and numerous amendments, Assembly members passed an ordinance that restricts the burning of wood and coal at some times during the winter, establishes standards to determine if a heating appliance is producing too much smoke and sets penalties to compel residents to burn dry wood and use more efficient woodstoves.

Presiding officer Karl Kassel put on a referee’s shirt at the beginning of the meeting, joking it might help him make tough calls. And he used the analogy to explain why he voted for the ordinance.

“You make a call (and) both coaches are mad at you, you probably made the right call,” Kassel said.

John Davies, who along with Kathryn Dodge and Janice Golub crafted the ordinance, said the Assembly tried to take all points of view into consideration. And he says both proponents and opponents will find things to like and dislike in the ordinance.

“I’m sure that this ordinance won’t please anyone. Which means that we’re probably exactly in the right place,” Davies said.

Assemblyman Lance Roberts, who along with Guy Sattley voted against the ordinance, found much to dislike – and he thinks others will, too. So much so that he believes the issue will once again come before voters, as it has twice over the past four years.

“It’s really going to create more division,” Roberts said. “This is a divisive ordinance. And what has been ensured is that there will be an initiative or referendum on the ballot this fall that we’ll have to face because of it.”

Assemblyman Van Lawrence responded to another of Roberts’ claims, that the ordinance would impose an unfair financial burden, by pointing out the economic impact that’s created by poor air quality.

“Going to the hospital, or losing a day at work, or dying early has an economic impact,” Lawrence said. “And I’m not willing to ignore those economic impacts.”

Among the many amendments approved by the Assembly was a proposal by Dodge to allow residents who violate the air-quality standards to take classes on the harm to health caused by excessive particulate matter in wood smoke.

The Assembly also approved an amendment by Davies to set a more stringent standard for smoke opacity. The term refers to appearance of smoke with an excessive amount of particulate matter. The amendment sets a lower standard at which smoke could be found in violation of the ordinance.

The members also enlarged the air-quality control zone in which the ordinance would be effective by adding areas southwest of Fairbanks, around Rosie Creek; northwest of town around Magoffin Highlands; and to the northeast around Weller Elementary School.

The Assembly also approved an ordinance that adds a million dollars to the borough’s wood-stove changeout program.

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.