The Anchorage Assembly gave new life Tuesday night to a vehicle emissions inspection program that had been slated to die at the end of next year.
The decision reverses an 8-month-old vote by an Assembly of a different political stripe.
The action to continue the program, which came on a 6-4 vote late in Tuesday night's meeting, means that most vehicles in Anchorage will continue to undergo an I/M (inspection and maintenance) check every two years. The Assembly approved exceptions for new cars and for old ones.
"The real issue before this community is that we are in a category of city that has some of the worst air in this country," said Assemblywoman Sheila Selkregg, who voted to extend the program. "Even though we meet (federal) standards, we have a serious air issue."
But Assemblyman Chris Birch said the panel should stick with the earlier decision.
"The program has effectively run its course," he said. "We need to focus on issues in this community that are of a larger concern."
Joining Selkregg in voting for the program were Assembly members Matt Claman, Patrick Flynn, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Mike Gutierrez and Harriett Drummond. Birch, Debbie Ossiander, Bill Starr and Jennifer Johnston voted no. Assemblyman Dan Coffey did not participate because of a conflict.
A steady stream of people airing their views pushed a decision late into the night.
Foes and fans of the program were about equally represented.
"The issue is if we do away with I/M testing, the air will get worse," said Dr. George Stewart, a retired physician who specialized in lung diseases.
"We worked hard in getting this program implemented, and we don't want to see it go away," he said.
Other doctors, several parents of asthmatic children, and representatives of groups such as the American Lung Association of Alaska also testified in favor of the program.
But opponents of the program noted that Anchorage air, for years, has complied with federal standards.
"You've already voted to kill the program," said Rick Braun. "Reinstituting it is nothing but a tax increase. ... Stop it. Put a stake in it. Kill it."
The measure approved exempts new vehicles for the first six years. It also exempts 1967 model years or older.
Selkregg withdrew a proposal that would have required noise and safety checks.
The tests have been in place in Anchorage since the mid-1980s. The program was enacted to get control of escalating pollution and to bring the city into compliance with federal air standards, which were often violated before then.
The program requires that vehicle owners pay a fee of about $60 to have their vehicles' emissions checked every other year for problems. A study done for the city reported that drivers spend about $8.7 million a year on the tests and related repairs to bring vehicles into compliance.
Anchorage carbon monoxide readings declined significantly after the birth of the program, which cheered I/M program supporters and stirred opponents to undertake efforts to kill it.
A task force put together by Mayor Mark Begich in June 2007 looked at the program to determine if it should be kept. In the end, that panel urged some minor changes -- such as a longer exemption period for new vehicles -- but urged that the city keep the program.
In November, the Assembly voted 8-2 to kill the program as of the end of 2009. Only Claman and Selkregg then voting to keep it alive.
The balance of power changed dramatically in the April municipal elections, with control of the panel swinging to a group further to the left.
The proposals giving new life to the I/M program arose from that majority.
Find Terry Carr online at adn.com/contact/tcarr or call 257-4582.