Borough looks to keep stove exchange program running

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Borough looks to keep stove exchange program running

Postby Wilberforce » Thu Jul 03, 2014 7:59 pm

Borough looks to keep stove exchange program running

Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2014 12:00 am

By Matt Buxton

FAIRBANKS — Four years into the borough’s wood stove exchange program and it’s more popular than ever, but it still not quite to the assembly’s liking.

To date, the borough has replaced or removed some 1,400 old, polluting wood-burning appliances, including 72 particularly dirty outdoor hydronic heaters.

“Things are looking good,” Glenn Miller, the borough’s director of Transportation and head of the air quality program, told the Borough Assembly during an update Wednesday night.

Miller explained that while the program is exceeding expectations, it’s also facing funding hurdles and bureaucratic roadblocks. He also said the borough is looking to grow its air pollution program with new incentives.

Miller said the program is going well and that they will soon begin offering free moisture meters to participants who go through a brief training session to learn about the benefits of burning seasoned, dry wood.

The program is part of a voluntary borough-based effort to clean up the Fairbanks’ poor wintertime air pollution, which has brought the area under federal scrutiny in recent years.

“But with all this good news we have the downside for funding,” Miller added.

He explained that each exchange costs the borough about $5,500 and that the program is averaging about a quarter million dollars in expenditures. That leaves the borough with about enough money in the program for two months.

The borough is slated to receive about $2 million from the state at that point, but he said that will likely only get the borough through the year.

“At our current rate, we anticipate being out of money by about Jan. 1,” he said, which is the same date the program is scheduled to expand borough-wide.

The program has typically received about $2 million from the state for the program every year, but that’s uncertain as the state grapples with declining revenue. Even if the state comes through with funding next spring, a check won’t be written until later in the summer.

But the borough assembly, which approved a revision for the wood stove exchange program earlier this year, was fuming to discover that their attempt to work directly with dealers so people don’t have to pay out of pocket is being thwarted by state procurement laws.

Assemblywoman Kathryn Dodge said that she felt that undermined the program because the households most in need of a cleaner, more efficient device are low-income households.

“They’re feeling broke and they’re not going to do it whether it’s from the borough or it’s from their credit card they feel unwilling to do it,” she said. “Given some of the processes, I wouldn’t feel confident that something wouldn’t go wrong and now I have a stove that I thought I was going to get money for.”

Miller said that because state money is being used, officials have said that each replacement would need to go to bid. Borough Attorney Rene Broker said she didn’t agree, but her efforts for the state to back up its decision have been fruitless.

“I suggest we just do it,” said Assemblyman Michael Dukes, pointing out that regardless of the assembly’s political leanings they had all agreed helping people replace stoves without a big out-of-pocket expense was a universal priority.

The borough administration pledged to continue pushing for an explanation.

Outside the exchange program, Miller said the borough is making progress on a program to alert residents of the chance of particularly bad air quality days and encourage them to voluntarily change to oil heating for the day. That will include social media outreach and roadside electronic billboards beginning Oct 1.

source ... b2370.html
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