By Korie Marshall
The Village is tackling a significant wildfire risk and safety issue in the middle of Valemount.
202 Ash Street is a large residential lot and potential subdivision at one time called “Sandy Acres.” Nestled between Ash and Dogwood, almost 60 acres of heavily wooded area with criss-crossing trails, the lot is often used by residents walking dogs and riders on quads and bikes. It is bounded on the south by the section of 13th Ave that is just a sandy trail and on the north by residences along 9th Ave. The lot is mostly covered by pine trees, many of which are damaged by Mountain Pine Beetle.
The Village’s Wildfire Prevention and Protection Committee noted the property is a wildfire risk, but it is not addressed in the Village’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan because it is private property. Harry Offizer, Fuel Management Specialist with the Wildfire Management Branch (FLNRO) says a big part of a community’s wildfire protection is private property owners doing their part and working with “fire smart” principles – recognizing ways fires can travel between structures and forested areas, and doing work around properties to limit that. He says the threat of fire is not just from the forest – a house fire can travel to nearby wooded areas, which can then threaten other properties, even across streets and highways if wind conditions are right.
Residents along 9th Ave have lodged several complaints with the Village over the years about the beetle kill close to their properties because of concerns trees could fall and damage their buildings and properties. Ralph Larsen says one of the trees nearly took out his garage a few years ago, and he contacted the owners to let them know he was going to clear the area along his property.
“I’ve got a couple of chain saws,” Larsen says, “I just told them I was going to clear the width of my property all the way back to that road they have, and they said ‘go ahead, just don’t leave a mess.’” Larsen says he cut the trees down to a level you could drive over, cleaned up the branches and stocked his wood pile with the rest.
However nearly three blocks of residences on 9th Ave still have tall and potentially dangerous pine trees along their property, and the threat of wildfire spreading in the property is a potential risk to a large area of the village.
A report to Council on Nov. 26 says the Village sent a letter to the owner in June, advising there had been complaints and that the Village would be assessing the condition of the property. The report says a second letter was sent in July advising the owner the property was in contravention of the Village’s Good Neighbour Bylaw, and a Notice of Bylaw Violation was sent with the letter, giving the owner a deadline for compliance. The notice is one of the first sent to a property owner under the Village’s new bylaw enforcement system. However bylaw enforcement would mean fines for the property owner, but would not necessarily mean the hazards are resolved. The deadline has passed, with no response or action from the property owner, so the Village is choosing another route to potentially deal with the hazards.
Last week Council authorized Village staff to enter the property with a certified arborist to assess it for hazard tree and wildfire risk, under Sections 16 and 17 of the Community Charter. Depending on the assessment of the arborist, Council may authorize that the work be done and billed to the property owner. If Council doesn’t authorize that work, they still have the option of continuing with bylaw enforcement, which could potentially mean that fees are issued every day the property is not compliant with the Good Neighbour Bylaw.
Some residents don’t want to see the property clear-cut. Donnie MacLean, whose home backs the lot, says she sees people using the area every day for walking, including seniors that will park at one of the corners to go for their walk. MacLean says many residents along 9th Ave have taken it upon themselves to remove the dangerous trees and clean up brush that poses a fire hazard behind their property, keeping it looking like a park.
“I would hate to see it conventionally logged, it would be a blowing dust storm of silica, which is a health hazard,” says MacLean. If necessary, she would rather see it hand or horse logged, because she knows it presents a fire risk to residents on all four sides of the property. But, she says, having that green space is also one of the benefits of living near it.
BC Assessment lists the property value at $571,000, and the property owner as Lewis Holdings Ltd. It is currently listed as a court ordered sale with at least two real estate companies. Both state there is approval for development of the first 35 lots, and plans for over 200 lots over seven phases.