By Andru McCracken
A new bylaw aimed at improving Valemount’s notoriously poor air quality will come to council for 3rd reading on March 23, but the maximum fine is raising concerns.
Wood Burning Appliance Regulation Bylaw No. 838 sets out minimum standards for appliances, a 2025 phase-out date for non-compliant stoves and outdoor wood burners and rules on burning when there is an air quality advisory (air quality advisories are issued by the Ministry of Environment, and usually occur only a couple days per year). Concerns are being raised that the bylaw has provisions for a maximum fine of $50,000 for contravening the bylaw. There’s no schedule of fees for various offences, only a maximum fine listed.
“Any person who violates any of the provisions of this bylaw, or permits any act or thing to be done in contravention of this bylaw, or who refuses or neglects to perform any duty or obligation imposed by this bylaw, commits an offence under the Offence Act, and is liable, upon summary conviction, to a maximum fine of $50,000 for each offence.”
“[The maximum fine] would only be levied against somebody who has a super polluting stove who insists on burning oil and plastic. Only then could you get a fine that size,” said Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Robinson.
“Fines are something you only do if someone is being downright stubborn and unwilling to even work with you.”
Robinson said the maximum fine is simply a reflection of a recent change made to legislation by the Province.
A reader called the Goat concerned about fines should they use their wood stove during an air quality advisory.
Robinson said that the village does its best to encourage bylaw compliance through education and rarely fines people.
Air quality problem
The Province has put pressure on Valemount to take action on its abysmal air quality in the wintertime shown to be largely a result of smoke from home heating appliances trapped by weather inversions. Robinson said the same provisions in the bylaw are used in other communities with problematic air quality.
He said their response to the air quality situation is a multi-pronged approach: a wood stove exchange program, anti-idling rules, investigating the impact of dust from the drawn-down reservoir as well as these new rules on wood burning appliances.
“The science says we have the second worst air quality in BC,” Robinson notes.
“I would rather focus on the positive regarding this,” he said. “The wood stove exchange program is offering a significant amount of money to switch out appliances that don’t meet the standard.”
The bylaw will come before council for third reading on March 23.
Robinson encouraged residents to write to council if they have comments.