North Cowichan approves controversial new fire bylaw

North Cowichan approves controversial new fire bylaw

Many remain opposed to new policy

Open burning will continue in North Cowichan, but with restrictions, council decided on Sept. 20.

Council gave the final reading to its new fire protection bylaw that includes keeping the spring open-burning times restricted to between March 15 and April 15, but the fall open-burning times will be extended an extra month and will now be between Sept. 15 and Nov. 30.

A staff report indicated that extending the open-burning window in the fall will improve opportunities to burn with the proper venting conditions and distribute emissions more evenly in the absence of a complete ban on open burning.

The new bylaw will also allow open burning to occur on properties greater than two acres within the urban containment boundary with a permit, more controls over what is burned and increased penalties for non-compliance.

But many who spoke to council were against the new bylaw.

Jennifer Lawson, a member of the Cowichan Fresh Air Team, said she realizes that open burning is a long-time tradition in the Cowichan Valley, but the population has increased significantly in recent years, as well as the knowledge of how harmful smoke can be.

“So many other communities have already banned it,” said Lawson, who has health issues with smoke.

“Every time my neighbour lights a fire, I have to leave my own property.”

John Drost, a local landscaper, said open burning is inefficient and not economical.

“I never recommend it to my clients,” he said.

“There are lots of facilities that accept yard waste, and the costs of chipping are low. Open burning might be the only option for some, but those exceptions are few.”

But David Woodgate, a retired forester, said that in a year that’s on record as being the worst one for forest fires in the province, open burning plays a part in reducing the risk.

“During these dry summers, having wood debris accumulate on properties is not acceptable,” he said.

“This wood debris is sometimes in deep and inaccessible parts of a property and the only way to deal with it properly is to allow open burning.”

Coun. Kate Marsh said the new bylaw gets the municipality within 80 per cent of where she would like to see it in regards to open burning.

“But there’s no doubt we have to do better, and I hope we look at this again in the next year or two,” she said.

Coun. Tom Walker pointed out that the bylaw does place a number of restrictions on open burning.

He said they include the fact that burning will only be allowed when the proper venting conditions exist, only outside the urban containment boundary except on properties that are more than two acres, and only during daylight hours.

“The alternative is chipping or a curb-side service, and both are expensive,” he said. “It would require a tax increase to support it.”

But Coun. Rob Douglas said he has concerns with extending the fall burning period by a full month.

“I’d like to see some more firm evidence that extending the fall window would be helpful before we make such drastic changes to our fire protection bylaw.”

The motion passed 6-1, with Douglas opposed.