UPDATE: Mat-Su assembly votes against air quality memorandum

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - UPDATE: The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly voted Tuesday night against the air quality Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Over a dozen residents spoke against the MOU. Many questioned the validity of the science behind the air quality monitoring and others worried about the costs of using alternative heating sources.

"Most of us who burn wood, do so for financial reasons. We cannot afford the $800 to $1,000 a month it would cost us to burn oil," Les Richie, Mat-Su resident said.

Assembly Member Jim Sykes said, if nothing is done the risk is high and the air quality violations will still be continuing.

As of right now Mat-Su Borough officials say they are assessing their next steps to work with residents to help better control air quality.

ORIGINAL:Matanuska-Susitna Borough air quality is on the knife’s edge of falling under federal control, according to Ted Eischeid, Planner II with the borough. That is unless they take swift local action to improve air.

Over the past few years, air quality levels in the Mat-Su have nearly eclipsed the standard cap of 35 Micrograms Per Cubic Meters of smoke. The area hopes that by updating the local Air Quality Control Program, the city can help residents learn ways they can limit their smoke emission levels and burn cleaner, while still being able to keep themselves warm.

[DATA VIZ: Alaska's air quality spikes in past decades]

"The New Memorandum of Understanding would allow staff to perform air quality management programs, with the purpose of keeping us below the Federal Standard to tax payers," said Eischeid. "And frankly, we want clean air, because everyone wants clean air."

Borough officials are hoping to see members of the community burning cleaner, dryer and seasoned wood, as opposed to burning wet-wood.

Eischeid said that many of the residents who live in Butte, near one of the monitoring stations, might not realize they could be contributing to the high levels of smoke in the air. He added that the biggest problem for people burning wood near Butte is temperature inversion, which is when warm air "caps" cooler air. This causes smoke to become trapped right where the air quality is measured.

"It's a simple thing, like try not to minimize burning on windless days... [but] that's not always practical. So what we want to do is set up a program," Eischeid said. "How can we help people get dry seasoned wood? How can we help cost share with those that want to change out dirty stoves? How can we help our citizens avoid this pollution standard? Exceeding it would affect the health of our citizens, as well as imposed cost on them through federal government oversight."

Right now, air quality levels in the borough are just under the Federal Standard of 35 Micrograms per Cubic Meter. If the borough eclipses this standard, then the Federal Government could step in and take over air quality control measures for the region. And if that happens, then residents would have no local control – ultimately, the area could be subject to stiff and high priced fines.

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