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Community Perspective

A new proposal for cleaning the air

The recent meeting on clean air in Fairbanks caught my interest.

Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, was clear in his issues.

The energy brothers — coal, wood, electric, oil, gas, etc. — all gave their pitch again. Nothing new: gas lines coming soon!

The clean air people want 100% clean air. I don’t disagree.

I have been in the mechanical plumbing and heating industry for over 40 years, 32 of them operating my own successful mechanical contracting business, which I sold a few years ago.

At one time or another I had contracts to complete substantial work on all six coal power plants north of the Alaska Range. This is my area of work.

I burn wood and oil at my house now, so this smoke issue is right up my alley.

The fuel is not the problem, period. Please, by all means burn your favorite fuel.

The problem is how we deal with the waste products. No one allows their human waste to be just flushed out onto the sidewalk. Why would you not do the same for your smoke?

How about this concept?

We have a sewer system in Fairbanks that’s piped to every structure and which conveys a stinky human byproduct all the way to a multimillion-dollar treatment building miles away.

We have a similar piping system throughout Fairbanks that brings good water into our homes.

We have natural gas piped in some parts of the city now.

So why can’t we remove 100% of all the combustion products from every smokestack in Fairbanks to a main treatment building for proper treatment?

A dumb idea? It isn’t, really.

Have you ever been in a bank drive-thru and seen the vacuum system move those canisters of money back and forth? We just need a big vacuum system.

There’s a positive aspect here. Heat collected from the stacks can be energy-saving territory in the future. The waste heat going up that stack is just that — wasted heat. If we suck all those stack gases out and squeeze the heat out, we would gain 20% more heat and then eject the waste gases back into a city vacuum system substation for compression for delivery and treatment.

But it’s never been done before. It will cost a fortune. It’ll go on and on from the naysayers.

Yes, it’s never been done before.

I challenge Mr. Wheeler of the EPA to partner with this local government to build a boroughwide compressed gas system to deliver all combustion air products to one central treatment station. Let’s not just study it; let’s actually do something this time. The technology exists already. Fairbanks could be the first in the world to do this. Think about the headlines: Fairbanks had the worst air in America but now has the cleanest air in America.

This idea is not new to me, and I too thought it was kinda’ whacky — until recently. I have tested the waters of this idea with professionals. I got mixed reviews but some great ones.

Even some of those who were not at first receptive to it became positive about it after some long talks. They even offered me articles on the technologies.

For example, the city of Seville, Spain, has a citywide garbage vacuum system. You see these pedestals that look like old-fashioned mailboxes spaced around about the same as fire hydrants. You just open the hinged door of one and toss in your garbage bag and off it goes, sucked down the pipe to a central collection center.

Yes, it’s outside the box, just like building an 800-mile oil pipeline across Alaska was 45 years ago. I remember those naysayers too.

Fairbanks is so divided on this air issue. Here’s a project that I think can bring the community together and clean up the air once and for all and be the marvel of the environmental world.

Please understand the magnitude of what happened here. The president sent the head of EPA to our city and offered to support an innovating new technology. Federal dollars to fix our air, a 100% total fix. 

Jim Gibertoni is a longtime Fairbanks resident. He is the former owner of Aaron Plumbing & Heating.

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