Bryce Ward was elected mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Tuesday. The former North Pole mayor cruised to victory over three opponents by winning more than half of the votes cast for the mayoral candidates, according to unofficial vote totals.
Ward says his top priority when he takes office later this month will be finding a way to improve air quality in Fairbanks and North Pole that all sides can agree on. But he acknowledges that’ll be more challenging now that borough voters have passed Proposition 4, based on Tuesday night’s preliminary vote tallies.
“So there’s going to be some challenges there,” the mayor-elect said in an interview late Tuesday night at the borough administration building. “But I think that is going to be really the first thing that we need to look at – how can we continue to make progress within those parameters that the voters have established.”
Ward says he urged voters to reject Prop 4, the ballot measure that rolls back the borough’s authority to enforce air-quality regulations. But he says he and other borough officials now will have to work out a solution that’ll enable the borough to clean up the air in the so-called nonattainment area while respecting the outcome of the vote.
“The voters have spoken,” he said, “and they have said this is something that they want to see. They want to make sure the borough is restricted in those capacities. And so we’re going to continue to tackle that problem, and work to bring our airshed into attainment.”
Ward says the six years he served as mayor of North Pole gives him an insight into the concerns of many in the area who have opposed the borough’s efforts to enforce state and federal air quality regulations.
“I definitely think it gives a perspective,” he said. “Y’know, I grew up heating with wood.”
Ward says he intends to employ the same technique in seeking solutions to the air-quality problem that he used during his time as mayor and councilman – that it, to listen to people, and build support for solutions by hearing their concerns and suggestions.
“To me, the most important thing is being able to listen – there’s a lot of different opinions that we have in our community – and really being able to grasp all of those different perspectives and being put them all together to be able to make a good decision.”
Ward says his second-highest priority will be to solve the related problem of high energy costs. He says that means facilitating the Interior Gas Utility’s efforts expand the natural-gas distribution system in and around North Pole.
“Part of the issue that we have with air quality is folks are heating their home with things they can afford,” he said. “And so we need to continue working with that project, bringing gas into town at an affordable price and getting people connected – that’s the big thing.”
Ward handily defeated borough Assemblyman Christopher Quist, as well as Nadine Winters, a consultant and former Assemblywoman and renewable-energy advocate Robert Shields.