North Pole Air Quality

North Pole recorded its worst air quality ever on Sunday as cars drive through the pollution inversion along Badger Road at the Hurst Road intersection Monday afternoon, January 5, 2015.

FAIRBANKS — A new local proposal to reduce smoke pollution is being introduced Thursday. The measure makes it harder to ignore burn bans and requires a permit to install a wood stove in a newly constructed house starting in 2018. 

The ordinance sponsored by Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel would apply in areas of the borough known as the Air Quality Control Zone, which includes the most-densely populated neighborhoods. 

The measure is in response to a reclassification of Fairbanks and North Pole from a “moderate” smoke pollution nonattainment area to a “serious” one

Under the new designation, the federal Environmental Protection Agency expects the borough and the state to adopt new rules to reduce the concentrations of PM 2.5, a byproduct of wood smoke that accumulates in the Tanana Valley airshed on winter days when the air is stagnant. 

Levels of PM 2.5 in Fairbanks and North Pole routinely exceed limits set under the federal Clean Air Act and have caused environmental groups to sue the EPA to press the agency to enforce its clean air rules here. 

Fairbanks is one of three cities — the other two are in Utah — facing new pressures to address PM 2.5, which has been shown in multiple scientific studies to erode heart and lung health.

Burn bans have been called in North Pole in recent years in response to smoke pollution. Ordinance 2017-44 would require owners of newer-model stoves to get a waiver if they want to avoid a Stage 1 burn ban.

Currently, burn bans under Stage 1 air alerts only apply to older-model solid fuel burning devices.  

Stage 2 bans apply to all solid fuel burning devices in the Air Quality Control Zone, which runs north from the Tanana River to the ridge above Farmers Loop. To the east, it includes Badger Road and North Pole. To the west, it stops south of Chena Ridge Road.

Also under the measure, those participating in the wood stove changeout program would need to have their new devices professionally installed.

The ordinance additionally puts new requirements on those looking to avoid air quality rules altogether. The measure requires those seeking a “no other adequate source of heat” determination to show they have an approved device — essentially a newer-model stove — they know how to use it and their wood is stored properly.

“If economic hardship is the reason the applicant has no other adequate source of heat, validating documentation is required,” the measure states.

To show proof of economic hardship, a person would need to show that they qualify for some sort of economic or public assistance, according to the measure.

Applications for permits to install a solid fuel burning device in a newly constructed building would cost $375 under the new measure. The penalty for failing to obtain a permit would be $1,000. 

Some of the new rules being proposed were recommended by the borough’s Air Pollution Control Commission, which held multiple public hearings. 

The ordinance is set to be referred to a special Committee of the Whole meeting May 31 and a public hearing June 19. 

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.