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State says Fairbanks borough can continue wood stove program

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Posted: Sunday, November 4, 2012 5:55 am | Updated: 11:54 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS – The state has given the Fairbanks North Star Borough the go-ahead to continue its wood stove exchange and removal program even though the borough can no longer enforce air pollution regulations.

The borough halted the program to review it in light of the recently passed Proposition 3, which bars the borough from regulating air emissions from home heating devices in any way, but the state’s approval doesn’t mean the program will be back to normal.

To prove the program was cleaning the borough’s air, the borough relied on homeowners signing a contract agreeing not to install a new device for a certain period of time. Proposition 3 prevents the borough from regulating in any way.

The borough administration halted the program to ask the state, which is funding the program, if a program without such legal assurances would be acceptable use of state dollars.

Borough Transportation Director Glenn Miller, whose department contains the air quality division, explained the state’s response to the Borough Assembly during its recent work session Thursday night.

“It appears that the state is OK with us continuing to spend this grant money on this program even if those legal assurances don’t exist,” he said.

However, Miller said the Borough Assembly needs to consider what such a program would look like.

“Those legal assurances really are what give us the air quality benefits. We can basically say this is a good program and we’re doing good with this because it’s illegal to do anything else,” he said. “There are a number of issues in regard to continuing this program, with the legal assurances gone, there’s much greater potential that people will take advantage of this program and use it to acquire a new stove when they didn’t have a stove or use it to make money.”

Miller said that without any ability to regulate what people do with their borough-paid-for stoves, people could turn around and sell them. He also said people potentially could use the program to switch from the cleaner-burning heating oil to wood, thus worsening air quality.

The borough administration fielded plenty of questions from both sides of the assembly’s political spectrum, members who both supported and opposed Proposition 3.

Assemblyman John Davies, who was a vocal opponent of Proposition 3, seemed skeptical of the administration’s interpretation that Proposition 3 would impact voluntary contracts. Other opponents asked if they could narrowly target the wood stove exchange program.

Assemblyman Lance Roberts, a supporter of Proposition 3, questioned the borough’s concern of fraud. He said he felt it would be more effort than it was worth to install a stove only to rip it out and attempt to sell it.

The borough administration will look to the Borough Assembly for direction on how to rewrite the program for it to continue. Miller suggested the borough consider the amount of money people are reimbursed.

However, at the end of the night, Miller said he’s certain a program, in whatever form, likely will improve the borough’s air quality.

“We have over 1,000 replacements or removals, and this program has definitely been good for reducing admissions. Going forward, that’s going to be a different story,” he said. “I think there will still be a benefit in the end. I just think there will be a lot more abuse.”

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.

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