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Assembly Decides Against Including Pollution-control Technology in Borough AQ Program

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly on Thursday rejected an ordinance that would have added a type of air-pollution control device called electrostatic precipitators to the borough Air Quality program. But the sponsor and main supporter of the measure was OK with that.

The Assembly voted 6-1 against adopting the ordinance that would’ve allowed qualifying wood or pellet stoves that are fitted with electrostatic precipitators to burn during air-quality alerts. But Assemblyman Lance Roberts, who introduced the ordinance in September and an amended version in October, said in an interview before the meeting that he expected it to go down to defeat.

“We solved the problem in a different way, without having to amend it,” he said. “So, we’re just going to kill it.”

In fact, Roberts voted with the majority against the ordinance. Aaron Lojewski cast the only yes vote among the seven members present. Kathryn Dodge and Shaun Tacke were absent. But Roberts says the measure was no longer necessary because of last week’s Assembly vote to begin testing the technology. If it proves effective in removing the PM2.5 particulates from wood and pellet stove smoke, that may provide a basis for future consideration.

“If this test results positively,” he said, “we’ll be able to work those in for people in the future, and maybe get closer to solving the problem that a lot of the other solutions that have been presented.”

Those solutions include burn bans against operating woodstoves during air-quality alerts, along with fines and penalties for violations. Roberts says the vote to begin borough testing of the technology also ensures it’ll be part in the State Implementation Plan. The SIP includes among other things a list of actions the borough is undertaking in response to what the federal Environmental Protection Agency calls a serious nonattainment of federal air-quality standards. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is preparing the plan for the EPA.

Credit KUAC file photos
Assemblyman Lance Roberts, left, and Matt Cooper

“This technology could be a great thing,” he said during Thursday’s meeting. “We could be the first community (to test it), and then other communities could use that as a best-available control measure.”

Assemblyman Matt Cooper, who cosponsored the resolution to test electrostatic precipitators, or ESPs, agreed that should be done first, before the borough takes further action.   

“I think it’s a great idea, and ESPs are a great idea,” Cooper said. “But if kind of puts the cart before the horse a little bit here, so we’re working with Mr. Roberts and the administration on how we can address it, starting with the resolution and getting this testing program going.”

Cooper urged support for the technology in an amendment he offered to a resolution considered later in Thursday’s meeting that listed the issues the borough considers federal priorities. The Assembly passed that measure by a 6-to-1 vote – this time, with Roberts voting in the minority over his opposition to its marijuana-related provisions.

Editor's note: This story was revised to correct Aaron Lojewski's vote on the ordinance that would've included electrostatic precipitators in the borough's Air Quality program. Lojewski voted yes on the motion, and the other six Assembly members present voted no.

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.