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Fairbanks Borough Assembly adopts stricter rules on chimney smoke

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Posted: Friday, June 11, 2010 3:44 pm | Updated: 12:57 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly adopted new chimney smoke regulations early Friday in an effort to crack down on air pollution, but the rules are looser than those sought by Mayor Luke Hopkins.

The panel approved the ordinance in a 5-3 vote shortly after midnight after listening to three hours of public testimony and making multiple changes to the mayor’s plan.

One of the changes was to reduce the fines tenfold. In another change, the assembly relaxed chimney smoke emissions standards.

“I think we ended up with a good ordinance that protects the health of the people,” said Assemblywoman Nadine Winters, who supported the measure.

Joining Winters were assembly members Mike Musick, Hank Bartos, Joe Blanchard and Kelly Brown. Opposing the measure were Assemblymen Guy Sattley and Matt Want along with Assemblywoman Natalie Howard. Assemblyman Tim Beck was absent.

“There was great testimony on both sides,” Sattley said. “(But) I’m disappointed. It’s rushed and it’s overkill.”

The air pollution ordinance has multiple components.

Effective this summer, residents installing a new stove will need to make sure it’s a type approved by the Environmental Protection Agency or, in the case of hydronic heaters, be “phase II qualified.” Stoves already in place have grandfather rights.

The measure sets opacity standards for chimney smoke starting Sept. 1, 2011. It also limits what can be burned. It establishes a stove and chimney repair and replacement program.

Those found in violation of the new regulations are subject to fines starting at $30.

The mayor had sought stricter fines, starting at $300, and tougher standards for chimney smoke emissions. But, in the end, he was pleased the assembly approved a plan.

“The amendments that were made are reasonable,” Hopkins said. “Now we can keep moving forward with this.”

The new regulations were more than a year in the making.

Last summer, Hopkins’ predecessor released a draft air pollution control plan that met with harsh criticism. When Hopkins released his plan in February, it drew rowdy condemnation as critics accused local leaders of eroding personal freedoms.

Supporters of the wood smoke regulations — some of whom suffer from smoke put out by neighbors’ outdoor wood boilers — called on the borough to protect their right to breath clean air.

The pollution control plan is in response to a mandate by the federal government to reduce a harmful pollutant known as PM 2.5. Studies show wood smoke is the biggest contributor.

Much of the assembly’s debate about the regulations centered on enforcement.

One of the amendments to the mayor’s plan calls on the administration to draft enforcement procedures. Hopkins had resisted the idea, saying he wanted code enforcement officers to have flexibility.

In another amendment, the assembly added a provision stating that nothing in the borough regulations prevents another jurisdiction, such as the city of Fairbanks, from enacting more-restrictive rules.

Want had proposed a substitute to the mayor’s plan that threw out the fines and most of the regulations on the types of stoves allowed to be installed in the borough’s non-attainment area, a domain that stretches from the Tanana River to the Goldstream Valley and from North Pole to the Old Nenana Highway.

The substitute failed on a tie vote.

Most of the new regulations apply in the non-attainment area, though the provision prohibiting dense smoke that crosses property lines applies borough-wide.

The plan sets rigid rules for outdoor wood boilers, restricting their placement and chimney stack heights. The responsibility to decide on variances — when people are allowed to skirt the rules because of special circumstances — would fall on the borough Air Pollution Control Commission.

The federal government requires Fairbanks to have a comprehensive pollution control plan in place by the end of 2012. If Fairbanks does not comply, the state likely would impose a plan on Fairbanks to avoid suffering federal sanctions, which would target the state rather than Fairbanks.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7544.

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