Residents Raise Coal Burning Concerns

HEIDI ZEMACH for SCN

Local residents spoke out at the last City Council meeting and urged Seward to do something about the smell and health hazards emitted by coal-burning stoves.

“It gets especially bad on a winter’s day when you get that temperature inversion that pushes everything down.” said Ben Pazdernik, of Birch Street, attending Monday’s Sept 9th 2013 council meeting with his wife Rebecca. He’s a boat captain, and both are small business people who sell nutritious health products.

Rebecca and Ben Pazdernik. Heidi Zemach file photo.

Rebecca and Ben Pazdernik. Heidi Zemach file photo.

Residents know all of the obvious health implications that go along with breathing coal, he said.  It’s pretty blatant, and everyone noticed it last winter.  Now that winter’s coming, heating fuel costs are expensive, and more and more people are going to start burning coal. “It’s is a problem that needs to be nipped in the bud,” Pazdernik said.

The issue of coal stove air pollution came up a few times last winter after council members received complaints privately about the smell, and a few noticed it themselves. But it had quietly been dropped, replaced with other, more pressing issues.

“An advantage to living in city limits is there are ordinances that can be made that can make a big difference for the health of this community,” Pazdernik said. He’s educating himself on how other cities in Alaska and on the Kenai Peninsula are handling the issue, he added, but would like the council to address this soon, before more people start turning to coal.

Jim Doepken speaks to council audience about his concerns with coal burning. Heidi Zemach photo

Jim Doepken speaks to council audience about his concerns with coal burning. Heidi Zemach photo

“I’m new to the community, so I will claim ignorance on how things have worked and how they ought to work,” said Jim Doepken, the pastor at the Methodist Church. His wife and four children moved to Seward from Girdwood this past summer. They live on 1st Avenue.

Doepken first began to notice it during the summer when the children would close the windows, and his mother who was visiting inquired what the bad smell was, he said.  She had asthma, and her condition started to act up while she was here.

He rhetorically asked the council what they would say if he had come into the council chambers and asked if he could smoke there. “You would say, ‘No, you can’t,’” he said. When he’d follow up with, Why not? They’d probably say, “Because it’s bad for your health of course!”

“I was told it was a non-issue in Seward,” he continued, “but all issues can be addressed if enough people are concerned.” Doepkin concluded: I love my mother and I would love for her to come and visit us often.”

“It really does smell horrible,” agreed Vanta Shafer, a councilwoman who has spoken repeatedly in the past about the smell of certain coal burning stoves in the city. But coal costs $80 a ton, and the council also “gets yelled at” over the cost of energy, she said.

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When the issue arose at council meetings last winter, City Attorney Cheryl Brooking reminded folks that the city does not control air quality permits or enforce them. Air quality protection is up to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, she said.

DEC has certain air quality standards determined by the levels of heavy particulates in the air, said Assistant Manager Ron Long. Perhaps these standards could be incorporated as part of city enforcement, he said.

“Hey, our air quality’s good. We have the tests to prove that,” Shafer responded, referring to the recent ambient air monitoring study with DEC. That study found that none of the samples taken of ambient air around Seward between Jan 2011-May 2012 exceeded national air quality standards for PM10s, or even came close to the current federal threshold level that would have triggered the agency’s concern.

The results may have depended on where and when samples were taken, Long said, adding that there might be some areas in town with higher “point source” concentrations than others.

Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, along with the Global Community Monitor, based in El Cerrito, California, conducted their own independent air quality tests at some of these key point source locations, concentrating air sampling around the small boat harbor and coal facility on windy days. Unlike DEC’s ambient air quality tests, all samples collected in the filters were sent to independent laboratories for analysis.  A peer-reviewed report based on the results of that study will be released soon.

Council conversation then turned to the fact that some coal burning stoves supposedly don’t emit as offensive odors (or particles) as others do. City Building Inspector Stefan Nilsson said there was nothing in the local builder’s code that lists the type of heaters residents can own that pertains to coal stoves or their level of efficiency. Fans can be added to coal stoves that will burn the coal more completely at hotter temperatures, however, thus lowering the amount of troublesome emissions, Nilsson said.

City Code does have an ordinance pertaining to the issue:

Ordinance 9.20.030. – “Escape of soot, cinders, noxious acids, fumes and gas” makes it unlawful for any person to permit or cause the escape of such quantities of soot, cinders, noxious acids, fumes and gases in such place, or manner as to be detrimental to any person or the public.” It states it also is unlawful to “endanger the health, comfort and safety of any such person or of the public; cause or have a tendency to cause injury or damage to property or business. The escape of such matter is declared to be a public nuisance and may be summarily abated by the abatement official.”

Moreover it states; “Cinders,” “dust,” “fly ash,” “noxious acids,” “fumes” and “gases,” shall be considered to be all matter other than dense smoke, including smoke, cinders, dust and soot formed as the result of the combustion of fuel which are carried in the gas streams so as to reach the eternal air and which have not been completely consumed by the combustion process.”

The city ordinance is vague and difficult to enforce, however, said Seward Police Lt. Lois Tiner, in an interview with SCN. “It’s a personal opinion on what’s noxious and what’s not. I may burn coal in my house and it may not bother me, so there’s nothing that we can enforce on it.” Nor do the police own any gadgets that can measure the amount of particles that someone’s stove is emitting, he said.

The other issue is a philosophical one: whether people want government interference with their lives or private property rights. Vice Jean Bardarson received pleas from some members of the public last year not to let the council “regulate coal out of the community,” because they said they couldn’t afford to heat their homes with fuel oil. Other callers told her they couldn’t go outdoors at times because of the smell. With a little research she located some efficient coal-burning stoves that cost about $2,500 and could heat about 1,500 square foot house.

Another issue, not discussed, is the disposal of coal-ash, which contains heavy metals and is very mobile. According to local reports residential coal ash is routinely dumped in various areas around town, including wetlands and the intertidal zone at the beach downtown.  The EPA is considering declaring all coal-combustion waste as hazardous and requiring its disposal in lined landfills.

 

92 Comments

  1. “When any principle, law, tenet, probability, happening, circumstance, or result can in no way be directly, indirectly, empirically, or circuitously proven, derived, implied, inferred, induced, deducted, estimated, or scientifically guessed, it will always for the purpose of convenience, expediency, political advantage, material gain, or personal comfort, or any combination of the above, or none of the above, be unilaterally and unequivocally assumed, proclaimed, and adhered to as absolute truth to be undeniably, universally, immutably, and infinitely so, until such time as it becomes advantageous to assume otherwise, maybe.”—You guys don’t impress me much!

  2. I suffered serious respiratory problems as a child in part due to an ill-fitting and poorly maintained wood stove. The particulate emissions from a wood fire may not smell *as* bad as coal, but are at least equally damaging if not more so. Ever wonder what is in your #1 diesel exhaust? look that up sometime too.
    Fact is none of it is healthy, and it is made worse by improper maintenance and poor burning practice (I Know people burn garbage too). If you care about your neighbors you will use this time to make sure all of your heating equipment is in good working order. Thanks.

  3. Folks need to drive on Bear Dr with your windows down on a calm cool day. Your eyes will water from the coal stove exhaust. Who has the right to do that?

    • one person in Questa Woods burning coal ruins the clean air for the whole area, tried to speak to them but they did not care

      • Care to explain how a city-wide ban on the use of coal will affect you, since you both live outside of the city limits?

        • Community in Mind says:

          Bear drive is within city limits and many can attest this comment is valid.

          Everybody used to have the right to smoke in public but we’ve determined that is detrimental to other’s health. Coal burning has a particularly negative impact on children’s health but does impact all.

    • Who has the right to do that? At last check-everybody.

  4. Maybe some one could start a “She will Provide Wood” and put it right next to “He will Provide Food” for those who can’t afford food and $250 for a cord of wood.

    • The really interesting thing is those people that I am aware who use coal, do have the apparent means to use some other source of energy. It’s all very interesting.

      • The other side of the coin…The ones I know who use coal do not have the means to pay the high cost of other forms of energy. If the use of coal is creating a problem, then the obvious avenue is to look at a method to reduce overall energy costs. (Don’t kick the messenger…coal)
        And Perry…the cost of a cord of wood has gone upwards to $325.00.

        • Point taken Sandie. As I said I don’t like to think of anyone being cold or hungry. This is a very sensitive issue and a serious one. But if the decisions you make infringe on other people’s health. That is very unfair!

        • The energy markets are global, a small town like Seward will have no leverage on pricing. As the demand for energy continues to increase worldwide, and production in decline, I would not expect to see any price reduction, ever.

          Additional state and local heating subsidies (many already receive), are the best one could hope for in the pricing arena. But a subsidized population, for whatever reason, is a symptom of an unhealthy economy – so it’s not sustainable or a long-term fix.

          • Thanks Neil. That is exactly why we need to get on board with all of the renewable resources we have. The Sealife Center is already using seawater heat pumps to heat the water for the exhibits. The wind never stops blowing here. The tides never stop changing. We need to open our minds in Seward. The City could set a precedent here. We can start small. One wind turbine, then two, I think we could do that.

          • Summer,

            Unfortunately, ‘renewables’ require an exceptionally high initial capital cost. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars for relatively immature technology. You think the bond float on the library is price, you haven’t seen anything.

            Costs like this could bankrupt a small city like this in terms of punitive increases in property taxes (assuming those in favor actually live in the city, and/or pay property taxes). And tourists will quickly figure out that Homer is the better bet for their vacation dollar if sales taxes go through the roof.

            Cities like Seattle can ‘afford’ capital projects like that. Northern European countries are making some great headway, but again, these are state financed projects – not capitalized by small towns and villages.

            Sales pitches like, ‘we can sell surplus electricity back to the grid’, are just dreaming. With our nearest purchasers over 100 miles away, and in consideration of transmission losses over such great distances, the payback will be minimal. And a massively complicated project like Seattle could overwhelm our small Public Work and Electrical Department.

            Also, electricity is a horrible way to produce heat from an efficiency standpoint, and generating that electricity via ‘green generators’ is a recipe for financial disaster. Maybe a hydro project on the creek in Seward has potential, I’d have to see the studies on megawatts generated and the price tag on the project to figure a payback.

            Renewables are exciting to talk about, but the the laws of thermodynamics don’t lie. BTUs and Megawatts require infrastructure, and that infrastructure is very very expensive. Renewables are also a concern from just the simple fact that the price of firewood has increased about 30% just over the past two years.

            I’m pro green energy, but I’m also a realist. And I’m against ganging-up on those of modest means, which is what this is. Per Aurora, there are about 50 households in Seward and the surrounding areas that burn coal, or about 5%. 95% slamming the 5% is bad karma, period.

            If this city bans coal, it’s kicking people out of the community, pure and simple – there has to be a reasonable solution.

          • Correction:

            Paragraph 4 – ‘Seattle’ should read ‘The Sea Life Center’

            And, yes, Summer, I appreciate your positive thinking, and The Sea Life Center’s hydro system is an amazing piece of engineering.

    • Perry, you crack me up!

      • It is not funny to be hungry or cold. I did not mean to make light of that.

        • Thanks Neil. Seems like you have a wiser, although not very hopeful knowledge of our community. I did say, start small. If we don’t get started somewhere soon it does worry me. I’m sure those 50 homes are very toasty tonight. We need some more forward thinking people as leaders for our town, and I’m afraid I don’t see anybody like that on the upcoming ballot.

          • Hi Summer,

            I saw that you said ‘start small’, and I responded in my comment, that a hydro project on the creek has the best chance of success (money spent per megawatt generated) using mature technology.

            Adding power generation capacity, ‘green’ or traditional, is not going to solve the problem of individuals not being able to afford home heating. Homes in Alaska aren’t heated with electricity.

            I am positive, and I am hopeful, and I appreciate that you are. But, these issues have to be discussed rationally, lest the city (and all of us) financially self destruct.

            These projects cost real money that real people have to pay.

            To echo what I said earlier; in a world where literally half the population is ‘coming on-line’, and is wanting our lifestyle and the energy that fuels it – prices are not going down, ever.

            Seward is uniquely situated at the terminus of a railway, whose most profitable cargo is coal.

            For both power generation, home heat, and the long term economic health of this community – that coal depot is a gift to this community.

  5. Other suggestions might be low-interest loans to rural Alaskans to help them purchase higher-efficiency coal or wood burning stoves to replace their old ones, or even to purchase efficient Toyo stoves. Or there could be reductions in taxes or certain city fees for those who
    do purchase more efficient heating equipment in a given year. Maybe the city (or other entity) could establish a conservation fund to subsidize the purchase of filters, or fans that would help stoves burn hotter and more efficiently.

  6. An interesting sight is pelletheat.org click on pellets and then go to compare fuel costs. Really cool chart when you enter the cost you pay for seven different types of heating in your area it tells you what you pay per million BTU’s .
    There is a federal tax break for putting some stoves – Toyo isn’t one of them.

  7. Hate the Smell says:

    I have a neighbor who burns coal and that pipe is smoking a lot! It Stinks and makes myself and my kids nauseous and it is usually smoking once it gets below 60… even all summer. Makes even going into the backyard unpleasent. Yes I understand why it is being burned but….why do I have to deal with throwing up because of their decision?

    • There are ordinances on the books to address that type of burning. You should absolutely call the City of Seward for enforcement, especially since it is so very egregious. I’m surprised your other neighbors have yet to call on the offender.

  8. Hate the Smell says:

    We have called and where told they can’t do anything…I personnaly have called 2x and been told this and neighbors have told me the same

  9. In town resident says:

    We have called numerous times and have been told there is nothing that can be done. It is so rude of the people to burn coal in a residential area such as Bear Dr. And Dora Way. I hate running through town and having to hold my breath in areas where the toxic smell is strong. I hate having to tell my kids to run in the house because the yucky smoke is coming. Many thankyou’s to the two bringing up awareness. There should be an ordinance.
    Or maybe since it’s ok that some are doing it, maybe everyone should do it, then we can all save money.
    Halloweens coming up, break out the gas masks

    • “Coal is a gift to this community.” Somehow I don’t think those people with a variety of respiratory afflictions would ever agree to that one Neil.

      • Ok, I have to ask, in the hierarchy of sympathy, who’s more worthy: those with respiratory problems, or those being forced out of town due high energy costs?

        • Neil, That question is an impossibility to answer. No wait, I believe if you cannot breathe you are going to die. I would choose that as my hierarchy of sympathy. Yes most definitely, being able to breathe is most worthy.

          • In that case, we will kick the poor people out of town on the coal issue.

            Since breathing is paramount, shall we team with Russ and the RBCA to attack (lawsuits) the cannery?

            We live downwind during the summer, and with all of those aerosolized proteins from processed fish entrails (offal), eyes water and throat burns – I’m amazed more of the children don’t have problems.

          • Neil Wasmund wrote: “Since breathing is paramount, shall we team with Russ and the RBCA to attack (lawsuits) the cannery?”

            For the record “Russ and the RBCA” have no intention of suing anyone whatsoever, ever. To my knowledge I have never even met this person, (if he even exists as he is not listed in the phonebook), so know “his” comment for what it is; purely fabricated balderdash intended to spread malice and deceit. And we almost had a productive and intelligent dialogue going there.

          • Neil, you belittle all of your eloquent and smart points by performing personal attacks like that. I am very new to Seward and not very aware of ongoing politics. But trying to take the high road usually works wherever you are. I would not want to live anywhere else, and I would not want anyone else who calls this home to have to leave here.

          • And look at who shows-up from lurking in the shadows.

            I’ll assume, like other local going concerns, Icicle has made a donation to ‘the cause’?

  10. what ever happened to improving the energy efficiency in our buildings? I remodeled my house and insulated it in the process – cut the heating bill to less than half, and got a $10,000 rebate from AHFC to do so. The AHFC rebate program continues. I strongly encourage everyone to check it out. No need to burn coal in my home.

    • Thank you for providing that information Phil.

      Also, our community now allows ANY property within the city limits to use windpower.
      Although there are some restrictions in place, they are for the sole purpose of protecting the neighboring property; such as height if you choose a tower setup.

      Technology is increasing rapidly and rooftop wind generators may be another option.

  11. I fully understand Neil’s point he is trying to make with his rhetorical question. We live in this community together. Although we may not agree or ‘approve’ (if you are judgemental) of things that occur, we do not condemn by choosing an either/or; which some posters are attempting to do.
    Win, win solutions please.

    • Thanks Sandie, that’s how I hope to always feel about Seward. There is a place here for all of us. Moderation and acceptance of one another is something to be worked on and I’m thankful that I am breathing and living here.

    • Sandie & Summer,

      You both seem very nice. And however ‘salty’ I might appear, I sincerely mean that.

      But my point, however made, was not rhetorical.

      Coal, on a cost per/BTU basis, has no competitor in this town, at all. The next closest ‘substitution’, in economic terms, is firewood at around 5 times the price.

      If people are just barely making ends meet using coal, they’ve nowhere to turn, game over.

      These are people’s lives we’re talking about.

      You ban coal, you’re sending people out of the community and into the wasteland.

      Everyone should realize that, one day it might well be them.

      • Neil,

        Your ‘economic’ analysis leaves out one of the most basic economic principles – that of the external costs of residential coal burning. If the externalities were taken into account in the price of coal, any of the other non-renewable energy sources available in Seward beat the pants off coal – but the coal industry (which is enormous in several different regions of the lower 48) has always found ways to avoid paying for their externalities and Seward is no different than Tennensee, Wyoming, or Pennsylvania.

        You may be correct that per BTU to the user, coal is cheaper. However, there are countless other ‘costs’ (some actual and others very difficult to monetize) associated with burning coal. Some are paid for by the government and others in the form of lost revenues and resources, slower growth, lowered life expectancies and misery related to coal-induced health problems.

        Some of the specific external costs of heating your home with coal in Seward are…
        -Permanent devastation of the environment where it is mined (I can’t help but notice your Usibelli hat, so perhaps your position isn’t necessarily unbiased). This includes water quality, air quality and other problems around all coal mines – including Usibelli.
        -Long term pollution related to ash going up as particulate through the stove pipe as well as what is left behind from the stove. This ash has a high concentration of heavy metals, dioxin, and other toxic substances. If tested, it would likely not be allowable to discard in the regular landfill waste stream since it would belong in a hazardous waste landfill. Heavy metal laden ash can find its way into our water and soil – creating long term toxic problems for gardeners, fishers, and wildlife – not to mention humans (especially kids) who like to play in the dirt!
        -Subsidies by the state and federal government for the Alaska Railroad (hundreds of millions of dollars of grants and public transportation costs) to make the AKRR pencil out over the past 30 years or so as a state corporation – and coal is one of the primary reasons the AKRR exists today ,and therefore needs these federal and state funds it couldn’t operate without.
        -Medical costs associated with coal burning stoves – Burning coal in most residential stoves creates particulate ash that contains heavy metals, dioxins, and other known carcinogens and agents that are proven to damage the Central Nervous system – and children are particularly at risk. It also has a well-documented history of causing acute and chronic lung and breathing problems that are expensive to treat and debilitating to those who experience them
        -Decreased lifespans, lost work due to health problems, and lowered productivity due to health problems directly related to exposure to coal particulates and toxic ash.
        -Lowered property values – noxious fumes coming from inefficient residential stoves lower the property values of the surrounding homes.
        -Lower quality of life – The smell of coal is a known and proven irritant. If people can’t play in their yard with their children because of the noxious fumes coming from nearby coalburning stoves, there is a cost involved in their decreased happiness.

        I have empathy for people who feel that there is no other way to survive without burning coal, but it needs to be pointed out that they are creating huge public costs by their actions – and these costs should at least be a part of the discussion. No one should have to choose between heating their home and purchasing medicine, food, or healthcare – but that is a decision that many people find themselves having to make. Like a prominent businessman here in Seward is fond of saying – we should focus not on the size of our piece of the pie, but on the size of the pie. There is a solution out there, but polluting your neighborhood, causing disease and misery, and violating the spirit, if not the letter of city ordinances should not be and is not the best option.

        • Hi Dave,

          I appreciate your thoughtful response.

          And, no, I have no affiliation with UCM – other than I burn coal for now. I talked with one of their reps about a year ago concerning ‘chatter’ I’d heard of an Alaskan Anthracite deposit being developed. They sent me some literature and a nice toasty cap. Great folks, seem to run a tight ship, I make no apologies – and yes, I’m quite biased.

          To your points, consider these externalities:
          _________________________

          Exxon Valdez

          This is a community that can still remember that, in a single day, a single crude oil tanker and one drunk captain literally wrecked the ecosystem in Prince William, and the lives of the people linked to it.

          Price Tag on That?
          _________________________

          Fukushima

          Presently, there are 3 open air reactors in Fukushima (designed by the Ecomagineers at GE no less) along with 10000+ spent fuel rods waiting to enter the mix. The entire concoction is and will be for 1000s of years spewing death into both the Jet Stream and the Kuroshio Current – to both of which we are directly linked.

          Depending on which foreign news service you read (can’t find much domestically), or which scientific blog one reads – the news on containment efforts go from bad to worse, the outlook for the entire Pacific (and us) tragic.

          Price Tag on That?
          _________________________

          Deepwater Horizon Accident

          How many millions of gallons were pumped into the Gulf of Mexico? Nobody knows, because god knows how much poisonous Corexit was pumped down there to sink it all.

          Price Tag on That?
          _________________________

          Fracking

          Shale Gas is the flavor of the month. No matter that those proven reserves may not, in fact, be quite so ‘proven’.

          What is for sure, those proprietary hydraulic fracking fluids will staying in the ground, leaching into aquafiers, and contaminating ground water all over the US – and will be for generations to come.

          Price Tag on That?
          _________________________

          10 coal freighters could sink in our bay alone, and short of the heroic efforts of the locals and Coasties to save lives and offload the bunker fuel and hydraulic fluids, the impact would be minimal compared to crude.

          I’m old enough to remember in Pennsylvania, when surface mines were not required to remediate – the devastation is still clear in my mind. I’m under no illusions about heavy industry.

          It’s all dirty. What I find amusing, is that the opponents somehow feel their dirt is less dirty.

          And, there’s no need to have empathy for those who feel they have no choice on the coal issue – many have no choice, they simply can’t afford other options.

          Ban coal, and you’re kicking people out of the community. Don’t worry though, energy prices are going to continue to rise. In the years to come, it will all be our turn.

  12. Bick Pentameter says:

    Bummer. I thought this Neil Wasmund guy, while dead wrong on coal, at least had some integrity. Neil made some good economic points and I was with him. Then he badmouthed RBCA and Russ Maddox with low-rent, snarky comments. Gotta figure he’s an employee for Aurora or the railroad.

    • No, I neither work for or am affiliated with UCM, Aurora, or the Railroad – but I do love trains.

      Concerning Russ/RBCA, my thoughts:

      If they’re comfortable taking donations from the same local industries that they have undertaken to watchdog – I’m comfortable observing that it’s a clear conflict of interest.

      If they’re comfortable checking-out the ‘backyards’ of members in this community, soliciting anonymous ‘tips’, and calling beautiful Seward ‘A Dirty Little Coal Town’ in print – I’m comfortable letting them know my perspective.

      If they’re comfortable fomenting the coal issue, attacking coal use, attacking the presence of the terminal, and attacking those who use coal as unenlightened, uneducated and selfish – I’m comfortable not giving them a free pass.

      Throw in the stories I’ve heard around town concerning the activities of some of their members, the legal actions, the threats of legal action, and finally, their relationship with The Sierra Club – and it paints a pretty clear picture for me.

      • Bick Pentameter says:

        Heavy on innuendo; light on evidence.

        • Hi Russ!

          How about our very own ‘Beer Summit’ as a form of detente?

          Since we don’t know each other, I’d be interested in talking with you about the issues one on one.

          I lived off-grid/remote for almost 4 years of my life, struggled with wind & solar constantly, and was beginning to wrap my own generator coils to setup homemade experimental tidal using an anemometer or helix fin arrangement (hadn’t decided).

          I’d be facinated to tap your knowledge of microalternatives – and hear details about what you’re doing at your house to ‘unplug’.

  13. Snowyknitter907 says:

    There is no easy answer to this situation. I live and work within the city limits. I haven’t had any kind of reaction to coal burning as far as I can tell. A close neighbor burns wood in a “decorative” fireplace to supplement fuel oil. When it’s really cold, and she’s burning a lot, I can feel it. Everyone is going to have a different reaction.

    Fuel oil is expensive… no debate. Wood and coal can be less. Other communities in Alaska have environmental problems due to alternative heating sources… Fairbanks for example with wood stoves and the temperature inversions.

    Not everyone can qualify for state assistance… we rent and our winter income is just above the income standards for eligibility. We don’t have a lot of debt… a vehicle payment and the typical household expenses. Any energy improvements is out of our pocket with no reimbursement or tax credit. So during the coldest months we have to readjust our priorities: what do we do without to pay for heat? Food, gas, phone? And don’t even think about plugging in an electric space heater. Your next Seward Public Utilities electric bill will send you to the hospital in cardiac arrest (there’s another bill to be paid). We have friends who rent and heat mainly with wood, and wake up to temperatures in the 30s during the winter due to the age and insulation of the residence
    One of our neighbors moved last year to Soldotna largely for the savings in utilities.

    • Snowyknitter907, Was thinking about what I had said about appearances when your entry came up, (that people that I know that use coal appear to have the means to use other sources to heat their homes). Perhaps I should attempt to walk in their shoes; and that most times things are not as they appear. The use of coal obviously is immediately and utmostly an economic (not choice) but neccesity. I am fortunate enough to be able to use an alternate source of energy, although I’m sure it has an impact on our environment. In an effort to not be smug and try to understand, and to have empathy for my fellow man. I say things without thinking sometimes and totally regret it later. Hope someday noone has to use coal. Hope that’s soon.

  14. outsiderlookingin says:

    I work but do not live here. I have been commuting for the past 5 years. If heat and electricity were less expensive I would seriously consider moving here. I have heard for years that the powers to be in this town own the fuel companies therefore will never allow natural gas here. Homer is getting natural gas this year. Why isn’t this even discussed as an alternative? Unless what I hear is completely wrong, citizens of Seward need to make some serious changes on who runs this city and do what is best for everyone, not just huge profits for a select conglomerate. Just my opinion with the information I have.

    • LNG’s clean and achievable without inventing the wheel from scratch; piped-in or by rail, we’d need some infrastructure. Do you have any links on Homer’s implementation, cost of project, expected pricing, etc?

      Truth is, given the spot price on propane year over year, its availability, and ease of transport, there’s only one reason why it’s so overpriced.

      • Why is it overpriced Neil? Since it provides about 50% of the heat in my home.

        • Hi Summer,

          The memory of this incident stands-out:

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/23/AR2007102302255.html

          Truth be told, price fixing happens across all commodity sectors and subsectors. BP was just ‘caught’, and their hand slapped.

          Considering propane’s ease of transport, and the fact that it only contains about 64% of the BTU value of fuel oil; you get the idea.

          This will give you a rough idea of the oil/propane price comparison from across the nation earlier in the year:

          http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_pri_wfr_dcus_nus_w.htm

          From a heating value perspective (cost per/BTU), pollution aside, fuel oil is a much better option.

          Pollution, however, cannot be ignored; and as anyone who’s spilled even a very small amount of fuel oil in their basement, whose odor has migrated throughout the house, the smell will make you feel sick. There’s a reason for that, and those compounds that make you ‘feel’ sick, can over time, can actually ‘make’ you sick.

          When burned, those compounds are released into the air. You may not smell them, but we all breath them everyday, and they accumulate in our bodies.

          I’m not against fuel oil, at all. But these are the realities of the world we live in, the choices we make; we do our best. But no one is blameless, and therefore, in no position to ‘cast the first stone’.

          To leverage a pun, and as relates to your propane price, using the local ‘smell test’, if you anonymously call Shoreside, Amerigas, and Surbuban – only one will give you a straight answer on price per/gallon. Hint: It’s the oil guys; that should tell you something.

          The local gas employees aren’t responsible for national pricing, no reason to implicate them – they’re just working hard to put food on the table. Additionally, the gas companies nationwide, have quite the history of shady billing practices, so understand and track your bill carefully. If you don’t understand something, call them – and don’t hang-up until you do understand, clearly, for what you are paying.

          Energy is all about price per BTU/Megawatt.

          • Hey Neil. Thanks for all of the helpful information. I actual looked a little closer at my gas bill, and I do have a few questions about it. The section on renewables was optimistic. Good to see. Thanks again.

        • Summer,

          I submitted a lengthy reply to you an hour or so ago, but it’s still awaiting moderation. I’ll assume due to my extensive use of profanity.

          :)

      • Homer’s project is NOT LNG. It is traditional Natural Gas coming from a wellpad somewhere off Anchor Point.
        This is the one area where I agree with Neil. When their project is done, and it will cost $100-150 to heat a house in Homer with NG and it still will cost $500-$750 to heat the same house in in Seward with fuel oil – we’re going to be in trouble.
        We are far enough from any source of gas that Seward would need to use LNG or some sort of barged in gas. This will have some upfront costs, but would pay off in spades for decades!

        • Hi Dave,

          Do you have some detailed links on the specifics of the project in Homer, beside just local news? I’m interested in learning more. I lived there Winter 05/06, and never heard even a whisper of this.

          • Here’s the brief info from the City website…
            http://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/naturalgas

            Essentially, the Homer City Council voted unanimously for the plan. Each homeowner/business owner will be charged $5000 for their hookup, and this amount can be financed at a great rate from either the city or the borough.

          • Thanks Dave, I’ll take a look.

          • Thanks for the kind words, and I’ll admit that the thought has crossed my mind. However, with our kids so young, I don’t have the time to commit to doing the job the way it needs to be done.

            I think that Jean Bardarson will make a great Mayor and would ask that anyone out there who would consider writing my name as a write in support Jean for Mayor next month in our Municipal Election.

        • Seriously Dave, would you consider being a write-in candidate for mayor?

    • Amen!

  15. Actually some plugged in heaters DO work to heat a home…try the EdenPure energy efficient heaters…heating a 1600 sq. foot home that isn’t even energy efficient too much with just one or two of those currently to not use as much oil. Also buy the window insulation kits, sealing all our windows for the next several months with that plastic..they are less than $20 at home depot in Anchorage.

  16. Isn’t Forest Acres the neighborhood that just recently disagreed with temporary placement of an asphalt plant in the Jap Creek drainage because of the smell. The asphalt plant was a temp issue and if worked correctly some folks could have had reasonably priced asphalt work done, but no, instead they tossed these guys out. What about the fisheries? There is a pretty smelly place as well, why don’t you try to force them out of the area? Now you are turning on your neighbors because of their choice of heat. Isn’t coal a renewable resource?? Unfortunately everything that we encounter on a daily basis has some danger. That is except out mothers love I suppose! I would much rather have natural gas but we don’t. Why should I make the petroleum distributors rich if I choose to opt for an alternative that is cheaper. Seward has a pretty steady supply of fresh air blowing thru this area cleaning out the environment regularly, almost daily. Please try to live in peace with others choices even if they make your life more trying. You may never know how or if your actions irritate them

    • Coal is NOT a renewable resource.

      I have to say that the smell is very noxious. It seeps into our house when we open a door or run a bathroom fan. It makes me ill if I am outside and the wind is blowing our way.

      We are not turning on our neighbors, we are just asking to have clean air.

    • No, the asphalt plant did not get tossed out of Forest Acres, as you say. It was APPROVED by the commissioners of the Planning & Zoning Commission. The owner of Alaska Road Builders decided to set up shop somewhere else. I have to chuckle at how much uproar their is over this coal issue compared to how little concern their seemed to be by anyone outside of Forest Acres about the asphalt plant. Talk about noxious odors!!

  17. I find all this back and forth very interesting. Until you take a look at my house, my siding is ruined, my house has black dust all over it and requires interior painting at the very least every 2 years, my carpet has an odd color to it despite having it professionally cleaned every spring. I don’t have the luxury of opening my windows because my dear neighbor burns coal irresponsibly. My back yard has a constant black cloud hanging over it when he lights up his wood stove full of coal. Shouldn’t my back yard be MY yard to use as I see fit? Apparently to save a buck my neighbor feels I don’t have the right to clean air in or around my own house. If you going to use a cheaper source of fuel for heat you need to do it in a way that causes no harm to anyone else.

  18. Just listening to people’s accounts about having a neighbor who heats with coal I find my opinion once more swayed perhaps back to it’s baseline. I did not realize it was as bad as this. If a neighbor is having this kind of exposure and they are not using the coal, what must a small child who perhaps lives in those homes who use coal be exposed to. It’s frightening!

  19. Hate the Smell says:

    akpolaris, ahhh I have to say that it is kind of obvious you do not have a neighbor that burns coal. It really is a disgusting smell and hard to breath even for fit people. You think the winds clear it out? Guess again.

    • Oh but I do have neighbors that heat with coal and some with wood and others with poorly tuned fuel furnaces that smell as well. I also have neighbors with snow machines and teenagers. Nothing like the noise and smell of those foul 2 stroke engines late into the night. Some neighbors smoke cigarettes and fart as well. All noxious odors created by others that could cause me discomfort if I was to allow it. But I likely do things that irritate them as well. My message would be to go along and get along. People need to heat their homes and will do so with what ever is the most affordable. Why continue to fatten the wallets of the fuel companies if you don’t need to. “can’t we all just get along” as Rodney King said??

  20. Economics aside, choosing coal for heating in a community setting in this modern age seems to indicate one either does not believe the scientific evidence regarding coal’s detrimental effects on public health and the environment and the earth’s climate, or one doesn’t care, or both.

    The same property and privacy rights that allow folks to choose what they burn on their own property also protect all of your neighbors from any harm caused by those choices. Because there are no regulatory thresholds or limits cases where one property owner’s activities diminish another property owners property or enjoyment thereof often wind up in civil court.

    I would still encourage folks to report incidents to the DEC as they can and have paid visits to reported sources of offensive coal smoke and made suggestions as to how they could improve their system to at least make it less offensive to the neighbors.

    In one case the problem was resolved by raising the chimney substantially. In another they switched back to firewood for heat.

    Fairbanks often has very bad air and the DEC recently targeted two owners of residential boilers near a school as major sources. Absent regulations the Department of Law is now suing the owners of the offending residential boilers in civil court to force them to choose an alternative for the first time in state history.

    In a civil society we should always try to resolve matters outside of court but this explanation should better inform folks as to how disputes wind up in civil court. We love less regulations but sometimes this causes problems in and of itself. Talk to your neighbors (rather than about them) and seek solutions together.

    • Russ, Good to hear from you on this one. “Talk to your neighbors and not about them,” sounds like good advice. Thanks.

    • Russ, only in a perfect world would economics be put aside.

      • By economics aside I simply meant that I was choosing not to get in to debating someone’s perceived savings from burning coal versus the negative externalities/impacts (neighbors’ quality of life, property values, environmental degradation, climate impacts, etc…)of choosing to burn coal for heat. It has been demonstrated in numerous studies that when one quantifies the negative impacts of coal they far outweigh any (perceived) benefit. My intention was not to diminish anyone’s financial difficulties I was just trying to stay focused.

        • I totally understand the dynamics of putting forth an argument, but economics is the driving force in almost every part of our society today, unfortunately.

          In attempting to further understand this issue and the fact that I have never used coal, directly that is. How is it handled? Do people just go pick it up in their own vehicles? Or is it delivered like fuel oil by someone who is HAZMAT trained? I vaguely rememember seeing it for sale in large mesh bags at the hardware store when I was a child. How is it handled here?

  21. Hate the Smell says:

    We have tried to nicely talk to the neighbors…. did not help at all. This route will maybe help them see the light. :)

  22. fyi, I was saying Amen to the Outsiderlookingin. :)

  23. Currently I am burning wood as I have for over 20 years.But wood is getting harder to get. I know coal smells a little more but I am considering switching to it.Burn it hotter. Get a good stove and do not damp it way down.We are lucky to have another fuel source.

    • Amen to M. Flanagan. Even w/wood stove heat, having & knowing how to use a dampering system can make a great difference in the efficiency of it’s burning & heating. Many people don’t realize that a full open damper is allowing the heat to escape and the smoke bellowing out like a house on fire. It’s one thing to get the fire burning and another to leave it unattended in such a way.
      My most efficient heat was a airtight Earth stove, which had a front & back damper (as well as coils in it’s back for heating hot water) and also with a damper in the stack with a stack oven for baking.
      At first I used only wood until I found out it was both wood/coal burning and switched to the combination use of wood and coal in this stove. But one needs to be certain their stove is rated for coal burning use or it can burn the house down!
      With dampering systems, understanding and paying attention to the weather & wind conditions and having the stovepipe at the proper height with the roofline, surrounding trees/buildings or windbreaks – heating is maximized and smoke minimumized.
      I make NO claim to be an expert on these things but my information came straight from a fire chief- I trusted his inspection & instruction, thus ending my stack fires and charred 2nd story floor. btw-the houses on my block were less than 20 feet apart and no one wanted to choke the other out with what came out of our chimneys.
      Since; I’ve moved and really miss that stove. But there’s just no way on this green earth we can afford to buy another… not even with a low intrest loan.
      Now-a-days we don’t have near enough money to buy the $300.00 plus cut/split wood and like squirrels, we scrounge year round trying to keep a couple weeks ahead finding wood to burn. It’s a fact we work with and live with.
      Our shiney, diesel guzzling Toyo stove stands abandoned with boxes of home canned goods on it’s top for the last few years. Not having the resources to stock up on firewood means it’s not there for diesel heat and certainly not for the gouging price of Sewards electricity for heat! But, by golly, we do damper and are grateful for the comfort if our winter interior ever reaches that 60 degree mark for our waking hours.
      I also suffer from serious respitory problems so fully understand these inhalation issues being mentioned. It is a life and death issue and when the atmospheric contaminates engulf us we use a combination of air handlers and ionizers quite efficiently.
      Most autos also have controls for handling the outside air so as to prevent picking up auto exhaust fumes etc. Ours even has a Heppa filter and it’s checked at very oil change on our vehicle.
      Sorry to drag this on so long but I also want to add that when all of the local air pollutants became a problem entering into our home, we looked hard at HOW this could enter into this supposedly solid built house.
      A serious & thorough re-caulking with a UV protected caulk helped tremendously. Switch plate insulation and finally the ugly, noisey weather plastic over our single pane windows helped in numerous ways. Yes, there were & still are comfort compromises. We could not have done this had it not been for the generous and kind help of our caring neighbors. And if you see someone running around town with a mask on and it’s not halloween, it me.
      My respitory also shuts down when the roads kick up too much dust after winter break-up and during the holiday and summer traffic.
      We can all keep adding and adding to this list of things that would make it a perfect world. I do applaud making things better but there are boundries just as sure as property lines, freedoms, smart and long term logic, folks monetary abilities to fix and/or contribute, and numerous other things of importance that we just have to deal with, using the best solutions we can and not bankrupt our community and really put us in a world of hurt.
      Am I alone in thinking that it’s way easier to take up ‘a cause’ for someone else to fix and even easier to not think about the fixes that can begin on ones own doorstep?
      Even something so simple as cutting out all those ‘quick trips to the store’ that stir up life threatening road and asphalt dust effects the well being of more than my one self in this town. Car pooling would make a difference.(yes, even in Seward… look at all the cars lined up carting kids back and forth to school!)
      And, remember that handy auto-start from your living room window to start and warm the car up makes it ever so easy to do just one more chore while the car is belching out deadly exhaust into your next door neighbors house. Such a comfortable thing to easily pass off as not mattering. So, in turn, is it right to choke that same neighbor who needs to control their coal or wood burning dampering?
      Caring to get to know your neighbors from a point of true kindness is a practiced thing until it becomes a way of life. Provide help within your means as a first step has ultimate rewards.
      It would be surprising how many residents might actually have a better & more efficient stove, one or several good pieces of stove pipe, caps etc. cast into a corner of a shed or garage that they’d be more than willing to donate, barter or sell cheap to someone in need.
      How about a ‘drive” to locate these and maybe try this as the frontline format and energy used for some of these ’causes’ instead of passing laws to demand the whole city and nation shell out to ‘fix the neighbor’? I can’t believe that it wouldn’t add up in many directions and make a measurable difference.
      If you don’t believe this, then dare to prove it’s not possible.
      That willingness to help others, benefits one’s self (& the enviornment as a whole) and it begins in the privacy of every person’s home. I think making it a popular issue can turn a community completely around in as little as a day. (feel good stuff is contagious and ‘doing’ seems to have a better history over ‘talking’ when it comes to honest, willing, community service)
      There won’t be a closing hymn because of lack of time.
      Thank you all for your patient attention.

      • Dear my2cents,
        Thanks so much for sharing with us your ideas and problems. Hopefully this will be a mild Winter for us all. Hope you stay warm and healthy.

  24. Neighbors who burn coal and cause damage to their fellow neighbors do not care that they are causing physical and personal damage, otherwise this thread would be irrelevant. If the ash from coal is determined to be a hazardous material that requires special handling to dispose of it, then how can the smoke and dust from coal be any less lethal?

    • Using the appropriate fuel in the appropriate manner and heating appliance in a densely populated community like Seward is a relevant and deserving topic.

      Burning coal in a stove designed for wood can cause excessive smoke and other problems. Burning low grade coal like sub-bituminous or lignite in stoves designed and UL certified for much higher quality cleaner burning anthracite can also be problematic.

      Landlords, insurers, mortgage lenders and homeowners should all care whether their investment would be covered by the insurance policy they pay so dearly for. Underwriters Laboratories certifies household heating appliances as safe but only if they are used in the recommended manner.

      If one were burning coal in a stove designed and UL certified for wood and it somehow caused a damaging fire it would likely invalidate any damage claims one might otherwise have had. UL certification and proper usage requirements can be found in the fine print of most all binding contracts.

  25. Benjamin Pister says:

    This thread may have run it’s course, but I want to add my comment anyway.
    There are two more very important reasons not to burn coal that have hardly been mentioned so far . . . climate change and ocean acidification. Adding excess CO2 into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is creating problems that far outweigh the costs of more climate friendly alternatives (including burning wood, which is carbon neutral). Together these problems will affect every natural resource we currently depend on in Alaska, probably for the worse. The solution is fairly simple in concept, don’t burn fossil fuels. In practice I am not sure what that looks like because as many in this thread have pointed out, making a personal choice to avoid fossil fuels is often difficult. But we need some community based solutions to move in that direction. We’ll be forced to, sooner or later.
    At least in the case of burning coal from heat, there are some climate friendly alternatives at hand, namely wood.

    • Benjamin Pister-

      Thanks for bringing carbon disoxide emissions and climate impacts to the discussion. All too often we tend to separate ourselves from the consequences of our actions. Or our neighbors actions. There was just a seminar here last Friday highlighting the threat presented by ocean acidification and our potential local impacts. The occurrence of corrosive water will be more frequent more widespread and more corrosive in the future threatening the food web that supports our fisheries. The university and NOAA are in the process of installing full time/real time Ph monitors on the intake at the local shellfish hatchery as it will likely be the first directly impacted commercial enterprise. A shellfish hatchery in Oregon recently moved to Hawaii to escape the ever increasing corrosive water. This is a current and real and growing threat. As long as folks increase fossil fuel combustion it can and will only get worse. I am not judging anyone just stating the obvious. Currently, heating units that burn wood pellets are the cleanest and most sustainable fuel and heat available. Our low rank coal would be the dirtiest choice one could make for their neighbors now or the climate of future generations.

  26. Thanks Benjamin and Russ for reminding us of how our actions impacts everyone else globally. Please keep trying to educate us on this topic. If you change one mind, you have succeeded.

  27. I burn coal to keep my family warm in the winter . Simply can’t afford fuel anymore or wood for that matter. I have a coal burning stove, it was designed to burn coal. I learned very quickly how to burn the coal efficiently and without the noxious fumes . I have to burn the stove a little hotter but with the price of coal so cheap it is negligible in the extra coal it burns, to keep the fumes or stink down . My child has heart and lung issues since being born .The child’s health has actually improved over the years and the kid has been around it their entire life . If I thought for a minute that the health of my child suffered because of it I would have to do domething else . All of her doctors are aware we burn coal and they all agree it has done no harm to my child’s health. I wish there was a less expensive way to heat my house but there isn’t . I used to have to purchase 1000 gallons of fuel every winter to just heat my house , not including showers and dishes and now I buy none , zero,zip ,nada to heat my home ! If there were an affordable option I would be there right now. I am not one to judge what we do to keep warm I know what works for me. I constantly worry if someone can smell my stove and do really try to burn it correctly, sometimes even burning it to hot to cut down on the smells. So maybe some people that are burning it might need to learn how to do it properly. But I hate to think some of us that do burn coal are to be all lumped together is wrong .like having to takes shoes off at the airport for one guy that has the shoe bomb. So I’m sorry if you think I am destroying the world , I really don’t think I am , we all have things we do or own that isn’t good for Mother Earth right no matter how big or small it is it is still harming Her . So please don’t judge me until you burn no fuel at all or use any sort of plastic products at all . If you can honestly tell me that you have zero impact on this earths decline then I will lend you an ear, you would be worthy of following, but until then … Let me heat my family in peace please. Thank you !!