Monday, September 19, 2011

Fairbanks-North Star Borough Voters To Determine The Fate Of $20 Million In School Bonds And A Stiffer Healthy Air Ordinance On October 4th, 2011

Update October 5th: Proposition 2 fails; details of this and other Fairbanks el;ection results in this post.

On October 4th, 2011, voters in the Fairbanks-North Star Borough will go to the polls to determine the fate of $20 million in school bonds, a proposed stiffer healthy air ordinance, and to fill vacancies on the Borough Assembly and the school board. Fairbanks city voters will also be choosing some new city council members. Links indicated below go directly to the designated election pages on the FNSB and City of Fairbanks websites. The Interior Taxpayers Association provides a list of upcoming candidate forums.

Fairbanks North Star Borough:

-- Candidates: Assembly seats contested include Seat D, Seat E, and Seat H. School board seats up for grabs include Seat E, Seat F, and Seat G. The News-Miner profiles the Seat G school board race HERE, and a story about the Interior Taxpayer Association borough assembly candidates forum is available HERE. The News-Miner is now profiling Assembly Seat E HERE.

Update September 21st: Controversy flared in the Seat D Assembly race in the wake of a campaign ad by Van Lawrence published on September 11th in the News-Miner. In the ad, Lawrence called out opponent Michael Dukes for carrying a gun to public meetings and community barbecues. In response, Dukes, a local radio personality who often talks about firearms on his show, said carrying a gun is only a small part of who he is and that he doesn’t feel it’s irresponsible. Some of the 63 comments posted to the News-Miner story indicate the ad may have backfired on Lawrence; Dukes was already considered the favorite in the race.

-- School bonds include Proposition 1 to authorize $9.9 million for improvements to Ryan Middle School, and Proposition 3 to authorize $10.39 million for various upgrades and renovations to Salcha and Woodriver Elementary Schools, North Pole Middle School, and North Pole High School. The two bonds qualify for 70 percent debt reimbursement from the state; passage of both bonds would result in an increase of $5.69 in property taxes per $100,000 of assessed value. Read the school district's fact sheet HERE.

-- Healthy Air Protection Act. This is the most controversial issue during this election cycle. Proposition 2 would prohibit wood-fired hydronic heaters and coal burning appliances, add coal to the list of prohibited fuels, and remove the Interior/Healy coal exception from prohibition against using material not intended for use by the manufacturer. It would soften the financial burden upon those required to replace their heating systems by offering property tax credits for air quality improvements. The changes only apply to non-attainment areas within FNSB, which just happen to be the most heavily-populated areas of the Borough, and if passed, the measure would begin to take effect on October 29th, 2012. Read this updated post on facts and stats about Proposition 2 for more detailed information.

Ironically, the EPA has no objection to wood-fired hydronic heaters; they provide information on how to obtain compliant heaters HERE. Since this post, Responsible Wood Burners for Limited Government has filed paperwork in Fairbanks Superior Court seeking an injunction to remove Proposition 2 from the ballot. They claim Proposition 2 violates state law and will cause all residents of the borough to suffer irreparable harm.

Voters living in the city of Fairbanks will have some additional choices to make:

-- Candidates: Seats E and F of the city council are being contested. Read a News-Miner profile of the Seat E candidates HERE and the Seat F candidates HERE.

-- Proposition A: A proposition to increase revenues by paying off existing debt instead of raising current taxes. The city government is requesting voter approval to use a projected annual savings of $695,380 to fund additional City services by adjusting the annual Tax Cap (on any sales, property or other tax) by that amount on a recurring basis.

Voters in North Pole will also be deciding on how to fill two at-large city council seats. Each seat has only one candidate. The News-Miner profiles them HERE.

Non-attainment area enclosed by purple line; click HERE for larger version

The Healthy Air Protection Act was sponsored by the Healthy Air Now coalition, and resulted from a successful petition to get it on the ballot. It would apply to everyone living within the non-attainment area shown on the map above. Healthy Air Now believes that rising levels of winter smoke are impacting the general health of the population and, in particular, the health of children and seniors. They believe that the smoke will eventually damage the local economy, undercutting job opportunities and investment in the community’s future. They claim that reducing excessive smoke generated by a few will protect responsible woodstove use, noting that other cities have had solutions forced upon them from outside. So their strategy is to convince local residents to adopt a less intrusive democratically-chosen local solution rather than risk a more intrusive state or federal solution imposed from the top down. They are not targeting wood heating or woodstoves in general, but merely wood-fired hydronic heaters and coal burning appliances.


-- Provides reasonable lead time; enforcement doesn't begin until October 29th, 2012, so affected residents have a year to react.
-- Permits property tax credits for annual maintenance of fuel oil and gas heaters, new installations of gas heaters, and catalyst replacements for woodstoves.
-- Expands the stove change-out program so every property owner borough-wide is eligible to apply for compensation, no exceptions.
-- A local solution to be democratically determined by residents rather than a bureaucratic solution imposed from elsewhere from the top down.


-- Somewhat bureaucratic; within the non-attainment zone, identifies additional Air Quality Zones within a half-mile of schools, assisted living facilities and medical facilities, in which the fine for violations will double that for other areas within the non-attainment zone.
-- The least expensive form of heating, natural gas, is not universally available in the Greater Fairbanks area. If natural gas was available, it would increase the incentive of residents to convert from wood or coal heat.

Late on September 19th, Healthy Air Now hosted what they called a "informational panel" to answer questions on the issue. About a hundred people attended the Monday night panel at Noel Wien Library, which included experts, officials and doctors who answered questions about the health effects of pollution, the sources and details on how the proposition would work, if passed. While representatives of the opposition were denied an opportunity to present their case, Ron Muir of North Pole Gravel Products brought a flatbed truck loaded with a Titan 2 coal-fired stoker boiler, which didn’t emit a noticeable amount of smoke. Muir said outright bans of coal and hydronic heaters in the non-attainment area aren’t needed, claiming education and time will solve the bulk of the problems.

The latest local scribe to weigh in is Dermot Cole of the News-Miner, who published the critical excerpt from the proposed ordinance. Public reaction is mixed; here's one particularly literate comment by someone who opposes it:

aurorawatcher wrote on Monday, Sep 19 at 09:49 AM:
Yes, why would anyone want to vote No on this proposition? We all want clean air, right?

I want clean air. I've lived in Fairbanks since the early 1960s and I can tell you definitively that the air here is a great deal better than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. We never violated PM standards when it was PM 10 range, but the EPA did what they continue to do everywhere -- change the rules so that communities cannot comply. Three years ago, they changed the standards to PM 2.5, but they exempted violations caused by wildfires when the air quality is far worse than at ANY time in the winter.

So, besides the total hypocrisy of this, there's also the fact that they're trying to deal with PM 2.5 by targetting the smallest contributor to the problem. Coal plants are the largest contributor, followed by diesel. Wood stove users are a minority in this town. Yet we're the ones being expected to bear the brunt of the eco-nazi desire to control the community.

This is a part of a long-range plan that has been very effective in California whereby you gradually lose all right to independently heat your home and are forced to go on electric heat. In those communities now, they are "piloting" systems where the electric company controls the temperature in your home.

Do we want to live like that? No. I don't think even those citizens who think Prop 2 is a good idea want to live like that, but they are being manipulated by people like Ms. Schulz who works for the Cold Climate Reseach Center (along with John Davies) and they do want us to go that way. There's compelling evidence that our PM 2.5 "problem" is caused by coal-fired generation plants, not wood stove users, but notice that they're not doing anything about the utilities. Instead, they're going after a small minority of the population who are using a natural, renewable, sustainable fuel that isn't controlled by regulations.


Vote No on Prop #2. We voted on this last year and 60% of us felt that the government shouldn't tell us how to heat our homes. Let's speak even louder this time!

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