FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough gave its blessing to an enhanced wood stove trade-out program Thursday, one that will specifically target highly polluted areas in West Fairbanks and North Pole.
The voluntary program, funded with a $650,000 state grant to the borough Air Quality Control Program, provides greater incentives to trade out inefficient wood stoves. It’s part of an ongoing effort to ease particulate pollution in the borough, which exceeds federal air quality standards.
The ordinance passed 8-1, with Assemblywoman Natalie Howard providing the only opposition.
Under the enhanced program, owners of some outdoor hydronic heaters will receive as much as $10,000 to replace their stoves with cleaner-burning devices. Owners of dirty wood stoves will get as much as $3,500. Those who switch to pellet fuels will also receive a cash payment of as much as $1,000, and the effort makes more stoves eligible for replacement than the existing trade-out program.
Priority will be given to residents in the Dale Road area and in “hot spots” in the city of North Pole. Both areas are plagued with some of the worst air quality in the borough and face the most difficult path to comply with a mandate by the Environmental Protection Agency to improve local air by December 2014.
Many parents and teachers at Watershed School, which is located in the Dale Road neighborhood, testified in favor of the trade-out. They said children at the school need some relief from a consistent winter blanket of pollution.
“This is a serious problem,” said Kim Troxel, who has two children at Watershed. “You can smell it when you go in the door.”
Most assembly members agreed that the trade-out program is worth pursuing. Although there was some skepticism about how much of a difference the program might make, several said it’s a worthwhile experiment.
“I think it provides immediate relief in an area that needs immediate relief,” Assemblywoman Kathryn Dodge said.
Assemblyman Van Lawrence was skeptical that the program will make a big difference in the neighborhoods but said it would help borough decision-makers get a better idea of how to address pollution woes.
“It’s going to give us information, and good public policy depends on information,” he said.
Howard said she was opposed to the program because the borough’s previous air quality improvement efforts haven’t alleviated the problem. She said it’s time for borough residents to take more individual responsibility.
“I don’t think the borough intervention is really the road you want to go down,” she said.
The enhanced program will have a brief application window — from May 1 to July 31 — to swap out stoves in the neighborhoods as quickly as possible.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.