State sues Fairbanks wood-burners

FAIRBANKS — Two outdoor wood-burning boilers in Fairbanks are the target of a state lawsuit that claims they’re a public nuisance contributing to winter air pollution problems.

The lawsuit seeks to shut down water-circulating boilers owned by Andrew and Gloria Straughn on rental properties near Woodriver Elementary School.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports it’s the first time the state has sued the owner of a polluting home heating device in the Fairbanks area. Officials previously have issued nuisance abatement orders, including one to the Straughns on March 10.

A message seeking comment from the Straughns was not returned.

Particulate in Fairbanks air, a problem made worse by wood stoves, has made the Fairbanks North Star Borough come under the review of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has set a 2014 deadline for the borough to clean up winter air or face sanctions such as the loss of federal highway construction money.

The young, the elderly and people with weak immune systems are vulnerable to accelerated health problems because of particulate.

The use of wood as a fuel has jumped in one of the coldest U.S. communities, where temperatures reach 40 below zero every winter, as the cost of home heating fuel has increased. Fairbanks does not have access to natural gas.

The outdoor boilers named in the lawsuit were installed in 2008. State officials filed the court complaint Jan. 3 and cited nearly 200 complaints filed with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation by neighbors, Woodriver Elementary employees and parents of students.

“The (outdoor wood-burning boilers) at both of the properties owned by the defendants have, at times, emitted smoke that has impacted the health of some neighbors and has unreasonably interfered with the neighbors’ enjoyment of life and property,” the complaint said.

Woodriver Elementary staff members urged people this year to file complaints. The lawsuit has been received positively, she said.

“Yes, the state is doing something, but I was hoping that they would have done something in 2008,” she said. “Why has that not been enforced until four years later? But I am pleased that there is movement to justice and enforcement of the law.”

The borough itself is limited in its possible response.

Voters in October passed a measure that bars the borough from enforcing regulations on air pollution from home heating devices.

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