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Three candidates are vying for the two seats open on the North Pole City Council.

Thomas McGhee is the owner of Cherokee Riders Inc., a driver’s education school and motorcycle training facility. He is a former longtime city councilman, having worked with the council since the early 2000s.

McGhee ran for mayor of North Pole in 2018 but lost to Mike Welch by 15 votes.

“I have had the pleasure of serving on council for 17 years prior to this event and, based on inquiries from city employees and other constituents, residents, they asked me if I’d be willing to go back on and I considered it,” he said.

Carly Nelson works out of Eielson Air Force Base as a pizza delivery driver. She said she is running for council in order to learn more about the community.

“I was told the opportunity was there, so I grabbed it,” she said.

Nelson added that she thinks anyone who wants to run or participate with the community should take the opportunity to do so.

Santa Claus is a former North Pole councilman. He is a clergy member and advocates for children’s health, safety and welfare.

Claus said he is running because North Pole is expected to experience growth with the arrival of the F-35 fighter jets at Eielson Air Force Base starting in 2020. He said he has budgeting experience as a result of previous work as a special assistant to the deputy police commissioner of New York City.

“First I intend to help the city of North Pole flourish during an upcoming period of unprecedented growth. Second, I recognize the new financial challenges facing North Pole, and, third, I want to explore the new opportunities while ensuring the spirit of Christmas continues,” he said.

On the issues

The city of North Pole has been handling two ongoing environmental concerns over the last decade: water contamination and air quality.

Sulfolane and PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, contamination has been discovered in North Pole water in recent years. While the sulfolane was discovered near the North Pole refinery in 2009, PFAS wasn’t first detected until 2015 in Moose Creek. The city has been implementing expanded water services since 2018 and has more recently begun water system expansion in the Moose Creek area.

McGhee indicated he has been impressed with how the city has handled the contamination.

“(The Moose Creek water system) is still in the development stages and, like the sulfolane situation, I believe that once it is developed, then it will be passed on to the city to manage and control for those residents in the contaminated areas,” he said.

He added that the Moose Creek expansion will require one or two additional personnel in the Public Works Department, a subject that the City Council is addressing.

Nelson supports he city continuing its efforts in tackling water contamination.  She said she thinks the Moose Creek expansion project has been a good idea, both for current residents and for the future residents anticipated to arrive with the F-35s on Eielson.

Claus said he thinks the Moose Creek expansion project is providing a service to address the PFAS issues and that the city is on top of it.

“We have a lot of different federal and state agencies that are involved, including the military, and my thoughts are the problem will be resolved so that North Pole will continue to be a safe place to live, and our Moose Creek expansion, we have a lot of our resources allocated toward that,” he said. “And the feedback I’ve gotten is the expansion is going well.”

On air quality, air pollution levels in Fairbanks and North Pole have exceeded the limits set by the federal Clean Air Act. The borough has been instructed to lower its levels of fine particulate matter — PM2.5 — by Dec. 31 or face sanctions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  PM2.5 levels are largely attributed to wood stove use during the winter months.

Nelson said burning wood is cheaper than current fuel prices.

 “I think that fuel prices should be lowered, and then people wouldn’t have to depend on burning wood during the winters,” she said, adding that she thinks this would help the issue a lot.

Claus mentioned some residents rely solely on wood stoves. He said he thinks the community seems to be working more effectively at clean air attainment than regulations put in place at the federal, state or borough level.

“So I think the community is more likely to resolve the air quality issue than agencies probably ever well,” he said.

McGhee said he is unsatisfied with the government entities charged with providing natural gas as an alternative fuel source. Piping has been laid, but natural gas has yet to come to North Pole, which he finds disappointing.

 All candidates stated they are not seeking campaign donations. The election takes place Oct. 1.

The two candidates who receive the most votes will win the two vacant seats. Unlike in the city of Fairbanks and the Fairbanks North Star Borough, candidates in North Pole don’t run for specific seats.

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMlocal.