Editor’s note: This article was updated on Mar. 29 after Council’s decision to pass the amendment. / EM
by EVAN MATTHEWS
Despite a growing public opposition, the Village of Valemount Council has passed a bylaw amendment allowing open air burning at any time of the year.
Council passed the amendment at its Mar. 28 meeting, with a large opposition in attendance.
Council passed the first, second and third reading of an Open Air Burning Bylaw amendment in another specially scheduled meeting on Mar. 23.
The bylaw amendment’s fourth and final reading will happen at the Mar. 28 Council meeting.
The bylaw amendment’s “main thrust” is removing the current calendar-based criteria by replacing it with a weather-based criteria, according to a report written by Village CAO Adam Davey addressed to Mayor and Council.
The former bylaw stated permits would only be issued between Nov. 1 and Mar. 1, and land-clearing projects outside of those dates would be forced to haul debris to an approved landfill or transfer site.
“These amendments will provide greater flexibility thereby ensuring these matters can be dealt with at the appropriate staff level, and not Council,” Davey’s report reads.
“Our internal subject matter expertise on (open air burning) rests with the Bylaw Enforcement Officer, who has the lawful authority to issue permits in accordance with the Bylaw and provincial regulation,” it continues.
The Bylaw amendment also places onus on landowners to exhaust all other options to include “trench burners, hauling debris to landfills where possible, and other methods that may be available prior to open air burning.”
“These amendments will provide greater flexibility thereby ensuring these matters can be dealt with at the appropriate staff level, and not Council,” — report written by Village CAO Adam Davey, addressed to Mayor and Council
To ensure proponents have performed the aforementioned necessary diligence, the Village says Schedule A of the Bylaw — also known as the “Permit” — will soon be amended so that proponents will have to include a checklist of the various options they’ve explored. These changes are not part of the Bylaw amendment, according to Davey, but rather to be brought forward for informational purposes at a later Council meeting.
Although the proponent (of any open air burning project) is already responsible and liable to exhaust alternative options, Davey’s report says this additional step will reduce the chance of error.
At its Mar. 14 meeting, Councillor Reimer motioned to extend the property owner’s of 202 Ash Street’s burn permit to Jun. 1. Councillor Torgerson seconded the motion, while Councillors Hollie Blanchette and Sandy Salt opposed.
As the tiebreaking vote, Mayor Jeannette Townsend voted in favour of the extension.
The burn contractor and and Village Bylaw Enforcement Officer have stated publicly that they explored all alternative options, though members of the public have continued to present innovative solutions to Council, including a company based out of Prince George that is said to drive to a set location with a wood grinder, grind up wood debris, and then haul it away to make wood pellets.
When The Goat reached out to 202 Ash Street representative Shirley Sander for comment via phone and email, she did not respond by presstime.
To note, according to Davey’s report, Village Bylaws relating to open air burning began in 1984, with amendments in 1994 and 2004, while repeal occurred in 2011, and again in January 2016.
“There has been a consistent ’back-and-forth’ on the rules pertaining to open air burning,” says Davey’s report. “The current proposed Amendment appears to have struck a balance between the previous Bylaws.”
Many residents including mothers with young babies and people living with respiratory ailments were in attendance to oppose, in addition to having submitted written letters to Council pleading with the Village to put onus on the property owner to find an alternative solution.
The burn contractor lit slash piles in both December and February while the Venting Index was listed as poor, in direct contravention of Provincial burning regulations.
The Goat learned this week the B.C. Conservation Officer Service charged both the burn contractor and the property owner for burning within 500 metres of a public institution during the December 2016 burn, though the contractor had violated a number of other Provincial regulations, too, according to Conservation.
Gail Roth, an air quality meteorologist for the Province, gave a private presentation to Council on Mar. 3 in which She presented charts and graphs showing Valemount being the worst air quality comparatively to other communities, noting the major source of pollution to be wood burning, notably residential stoves.