FAIRBANKS — An ordinance that would restrict wood and coal burning when the air is unhealthy goes before the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly for a vote on Thursday.
The ordinance would trigger a new system of air quality alerts, with the worst—stage three—leading to a prohibition on wood and coal burning when particulate pollution hits 75 micrograms per cubic meter. That happened in North Pole last year 25 times, according to the borough’s air quality manager.
“The fundamental question is are we going to do something about it or not?” said Assemblyman John Davies, one of the sponsors of Ordinance 2015-01. “The intent is to go after the persons who are creating the most pollution.”
The proposed ordinance has drawn hours of public testimony, hundreds of e-mails and at least six pages of proposed amendments since being introduced last month.
The borough Air Pollution Control Commission recommended approval of the measure with changes that Davies said he has incorporated.
“We have dealt with every concern that people have raised that I think is legitimate,” the assemblyman said.
Opponents of the measure object to regulations on home heating devices in one of the coldest cities in the United States. Some resent the interference of the federal government, which has put the borough on an air pollution watch list. Some question whether the air is unhealthy.
The pollution is caused when the air in the Tanana Valley gets stagnant from a layer of warmer air resting on a layer of colder air. That traps minuscule yet toxic particulates known as PM2.5.
Studies in big cities show a correlation between PM2.5 pollution, hospital visits and death. A software engineer at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital testified that visits to the hospital’s emergency room tend to rise by 5 to 10 percent when the air is bad.
Assemblyman Lance Roberts said the problem with the proposed ordinance is that it’s too sweeping with burn bans that will impact people who are following the rules and burning properly.
“It punishes everybody because of a few people who are doing it wrong,” Roberts said.
Under the measure, the borough would take the lead on air quality enforcement from the state.
There would be three levels of air alerts starting with stage one, with a voluntary burn ban, and stage two, which would prohibit burning in stoves unless they are borough-approved. A stage three air alert would prohibit all burning, including of coal, wood and pellets, and could be called in the entire smoke pollution zone or just neighborhoods where the air is the worst, according to the proposal.
Violators of a stage two air alert would be subject to a warning followed by a $500 fine. The fine for violating a stage three air alert would be $1,000 following a warning.
Residents who take a class concerning air pollution and proper burning could have their fine waived under an amendment that Davies and co-sponsors Assemblywomen Kathryn Dodge and Janice Golub want added.
The measure also deals with thick smoke that crosses property lines, establishing a $500 fine for the first offense.
Residents without better ways to heat their homes could apply for a waiver from the air pollution standards.
Roberts said the waiver system is tantamount to asking people to register their wood stoves.
“Nobody wants to register their wood stoves with the borough,” he said.
The proposed ordinance also would restrict outdoor hydronic heaters. Installation of such devices is banned in the city of Fairbanks.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587.