FAIRBANKS — The Borough Assembly got its first look last week at Mayor Luke Hopkins’ plans to tackle the borough’s wintertime air pollution woes.
The borough is considering installing about a half-dozen wood-drying kilns as part of a greater effort to reduce the amount of small particulate matter pollution that’s produced by wood stoves and boilers.
Dry wood produces less pollution and burns hotter than wet wood, said borough air quality manager Jim Conner. The problem, however, is that it takes wood at least six months to two years to dry, and that puts a severe limit on the amount of dry wood available during the winter.
The idea of using kilns has come up a few times before.
Each kiln could dry five to 10 cords of wood in about 24 hours at a cost of about $50 per cord. The kilns that Conner pitched to the assembly during a work session last week could be built out of shipping containers and heated with either fuel oil or natural gas.
“There’s a tremendous dry wood shortage in the winter,” Conner told assembly members. “We’re trying to make more dry wood available. If we had six of these kilns running for six months, we could dry 5,400 cords of wood and put that much more dry wood out there.”
However, details of the project are far from final, Conner said. Who will run them and how the public will use them will likely be determined through the results of a survey of local wood suppliers.
“We’re open to any idea. If somebody says ‘I will provide 3,600 cords of dry wood to you,’ I don’t care if they build a kiln, as long as it’s out there,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is get the wood into the community.”
Conner said it’s the administration’s intention to contract the services and not add additional staff to handle the day-to-day operations.
The program would be paid for with an estimated $1.1 million chunk of a $2.5 million state grant and a $75,000 federal grant, which still needs to be approved at the assembly’s Thursday meeting. The borough received the $75,000 grant last winter for a dry wood exchange program but officials returned it when they couldn’t find enough dry wood for the program.
About $300,000 of the state grant is planned for the borough’s wood stove exchange program, which has already swapped out hundreds of old, inefficient stoves with new, cleaner ones.
The remaining money is being considered for a fuel incentive program. The details of it are hazy at best.
“You basically pay for those who have dual fuels or more than dual fuels to use an alternate fuel and not put emissions into the airshed” on days where it is forecast that the borough would violate air quality standards, Hopkins said.
When questioned by a skeptical Assemblyman Guy Sattley, Hopkins said details of the program and its inherent problems, such as making sure people don’t fire up their wood stoves, are still being worked on and that the assembly would hear more about it at its Aug. 16 work session meeting, when an air quality update is scheduled.
The borough’s air quality has been at issue for years, and the borough and state have been working on ways to get the borough in attainment with the Environmental Protection Agency’s air standards by 2014. The latest measures are part of a broader effort that includes education along with warnings and fines for the smokiest of burners.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.