Fairbanks Borough Revisits Fine Particulate Control Ordinance

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks Borough Air Pollution Control Commission met Wednesday night to go over proposed changes to a fine particulate control ordinance.  Borough administration has removed smoke fines from the legislation in response to a voter approved ballot measure that prevents the borough from banning, prohibiting or fining residents for use of heating devices. The revised ordinance also removes a smoke opacity standard as a means to assessing stack emissions.  Air Pollution Control Commission member and fine particulate researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Cathy Cahill lobbied for keeping an opacity standard in the ordinance.

Cahill suggested using opacity violations as a way to trigger a visit from borough officials to provide education on clean burning.

Medical research has shown breathing the tiny particles produced by combustion of wood, coal and other fuels, including oil, to be hazardous to health, and local research points to wood smoke as a major contributor to Fairbanks wintertime fine particulate pollution problem.

There was a lot of public testimony taken at last night’s meeting. Fairbanks resident Tim Suvdy challenged the validity of fine particulate science, and the legality of forcing education on polluters.

Most testimony came from the other side.  People talked about smoke infiltrating homes and schools, and health problems brought on by it.   Some called the voter passed ban on borough smoke enforcement unconstitutional.  Fairbanks resident Sean McGuire, urged commissioners to challenge Prop A in court.

Others said the borough’s draft amendments go too far in responding to the voter passed proposition.

The amended fine particulate ordinance deletes a standard for moisture content of wood, but retains restrictions on burning garbage, tires and some other non-wood fuels.  Borough attorney Rene Broker said there’s room for clamping down on polluters by taking them to court for creating a nuisance, as long as the problem isn’t the result of normal stove or boiler operation.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation can enforce clean air standards regardless of the voter instituted restraints on the borough. Fairbanks has until 2014 to get into compliance with federal fine particulate pollution standards.  Local air has dipped into the unhealthy range in Fairbanks this week due to elevated fine particulate concentrations.

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