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Settlement reached in Fairbanks boiler dispute

Posted: July 28, 2013 - 12:08am

FAIRBANKS — The smoke has cleared in a court battle over two wood boilers across the street from a Fairbanks elementary school.

Andrew and Gloria Straughn have agreed to a settlement with the state in which they will pay a $12,000 penalty and replace the wood boilers with oil-fired boilers, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Saturday.

The state Department of Conservation filed the civil suit in January after the pair declined to shut down or remove the boilers that drew smoke complaints from Woodriver Elementary School.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District installed new ventilation equipment in the school in 2011, attempting to improve air quality.

District spokesman Bill Bailey said the district’s focus was not on the outside air, which they had no control over, but on the air inside the school itself.

“We always did what we could to remedy the inside air,” Bailey said. “I would say the district exhausted all available options to make sure there was healthy air indoors.”

According to court records, the Straughs own two rental properties a block apart and installed outdoor wood boilers as a heating source for both of them in 2008.

In its January court filing, the state said the boilers had drawn 186 complaints from almost 50 people.

“Several people who have been exposed to emissions from the defendants’ two OWB’s, including neighbors as well as staff and students at the Woodriver School, have begun to experience respiratory problems and asthma,” the lawsuit stated.

A Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction in February that barred the Straughns from operating the wood boilers during the court case.

The state initially sought at least $20,000 from the Straughns but their attorney said his clients were incapable of paying such an amount.

The American Lung Association’s most recent annual report said Alaska’s second-largest city ranks as the No. 9 most polluted city in the nation for short-term particle pollution and No. 14 worst for year-round particle pollution. In summer, the culprit is wildfire. In winter, it’s pollution from wood-fired home heating units.

The boiler replacement will be eligible for a $10,000 reimbursement from the Fairbanks North Star Borough through its exchange program, a borough representative said.

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