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Borough urges residents to do their part to clean up air

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Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 11:34 pm

FAIRBANKS — With just days before the federal deadline for the state to prove it can clean up Fairbanks’ wintertime air pollution woes, borough officials made the pitch for residents to do their part to clean the air.

During a well-attended meeting at the Watershed Charter School, one in a continuing series of meetings, borough officials explained the health impacts of pollution as well as how voluntarily switching to oil from wood on high-pollution days could go a long way to improving the air. 

The borough’s proposal, matched with a perception of little to no state attention to enforcement, left many attendees with a general sense of frustration.

“What’s the recourse?” asked Suzanne Fenner, a parent at the school who described health problems among her friends and family thanks to particularly bad burners. “Who do I talk to, and what do I do? Do I call the neighbor and bring cookies? What do we do?” 

Watershed and other schools in the West Fairbanks area and North Pole area have been particularly hard-hit by wintertime air pollution, according to the borough’s mobile air monitoring.

Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins and Borough Air Quality manager Jim Conner explained the borough is limited to voluntary means of reducing air pollution. That’s because residents rejected regulation by local government in the recent municipal elections when it passed Proposition 3, which bars the borough from regulating air emissions from home heating devices in any way. 

The state is developing new standards, but hasn’t released a draft and has had limited involvement.  

“What is the DEC going to do, in terms of acting on their regulations and very few enforcement measures?” Hopkins said. “It is DEC that has to come in with whatever regulations they have and are mostly limited to a legal action in court.” 

When asked, Hopkins said he had no knowledge of any burners that were punished under the state’s 50 percent opacity limits for solid fuel burners. 

The state will do what it needs to do to meet the federal standards, but the borough will do what it can in the mean time. 

Hopkins said part of the borough’s new community action plan will be to make monitoring data and air quality forecasts more readily available for residents, teachers and parents. He said he will be coming forward with a plan that could incentivize switching to oil from wood on bad air quality days. 

Without any clear hope for relief from the worst burners, those who continue to burn dirty regardless of any voluntary incentives, some community members are now starting to take it into their own hands to petition the governor and the state to get involved.

Dawn Brashear, a counselor and PTA member at Woodriver Elementary School, said the school is taking a coordinated effort to file complaints with the DEC, Gov. Sean Parnell and the borough whenever there’s a smoke problem. Brashear said the school has filed at least 10 complaints intended to represent the more than 500 students and faculty at the school.

“Now we have a unified voice,” she said. “Our hope is we can generate support through the PTAs so we can get a consistent message to the DEC that still, there is a problem today. We’re enraged enough that we’re being assaulted daily, and there’s no immediate action to this.” 

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics. 

Nordale air quality meeting

6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday

397 Hamilton Ave.

Fairbanks, AK 99701

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