Fairbanks mayor promises air quality plan

Smoke from wood stoves the culprit for hazy skies, pollution

Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010

FAIRBANKS - The Fairbanks North Star Borough assembly approved an agreement with the state that designates the borough as the lead agency in the effort to clear the polluted winter sky.

Eric Engman / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Eric Engman / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Smoke from inefficient wood stoves is believed to be the No. 1 contributor to the problem that has put Fairbanks on the Environmental Protection Agency's list of communities violating fine particle pollution standards. Frequent winter temperature inversions in the Tanana Valley keep the pollution from scattering into the atmosphere.

Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner he will introduce an air quality plan in the coming months. He provided few hints about what the blueprint will contain, but said it will have an education component.

"We are discussing the plan now in the administration," Hopkins said. "We need to get moving on this."

Though talk of regulating wood burning caused a backlash last summer, there was little debate before Thursday's assembly vote. Only a handful of people testified and most were in favor.

Jerry Koerner of North Pole described for the panel how air pollution has soured neighborhood strolls with his wife.

"We were breathing through our jackets, trying to keep the pollution from getting into our lungs," Koerner said.

Meanwhile, former Assemblyman Mike Prax said something must be done to persuade wood burners to use seasoned or dried firewood. "We really need to focus on voluntary efforts to address our wood smoke problem," he said.

The temperature dipped to 40 degrees below zero in Fairbanks earlier this week. With the state's lack of affordable heat, officials say many residents use wood because they can't afford anything else.

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