Friday, April 15 will be the last time open burning will be legal in the City of Port Alberni. After that, the city intends to introduce a bylaw banning any open burning.
The move is part of the city’s commitment to ban open burning and promote cleaner air.
“The current bylaw allows outdoor burning between Oct. 15 and April 15,” said acting city manager and Port Alberni fire Chief Tim Pley.
Outdoor burning is defined by the city’s fire control bylaw as a hand-piled fire no greater than one metre across.
Campfires (up to half-a-metre in width and height) will not be affected by the ban.
“Campfires are allowed year around and it’s expected that they will continue to be allowed year-round. A campfire is no more than half-a-metre in diameter and has to be clean fuel,” said Pley.
“The city has passed a motion that after April 15 they intend to amend the bylaw that by next Oct. 15 there will be no seasonal allowances for outdoor burning,” said Pley.
Council liaison to the city’s air quality council Coun. Chris Alemany is looking forward to a bylaw change.
“Our main source of poor air quality is from wood burning,” Alemany said.
While the city hasn’t done a community inventory of emissions, Alemany said that an inventory done in Cowichan found that “residential burning is the most common cause” of emissions.
Catalyst Paper, Alemany added, is not a major contributor.
“Catalyst is not the prime reason for air quality advisories in the Valley. If it was just Catalyst we wouldn’t have any air quality advisories.”
Air quality council chair Sarah Thomas said that they are looking at doing an emissions inventory to figure out how that statistic plays out in Port Alberni.
“Residential wood smoke is a fairly substantial component and we’re working on the possibility of doing an emissions inventory to see exactly how much we can attribute to wood smoke,” said Thomas.
“But we know that particulate matter is a major health concern for residents in the Valley and we want to make sure that we can minimize that as much as possible.”
The poor health outcomes from wood smoke have been emphasized by Island Health medical health officer for the central Island Dr. Paul Hassleback, added Alemany.
“The health outcomes are quite convincing as far as the direct impact from reducing emissions into the air, reducing admissions into hospitals from breathing problems and heart problems,” Alemany said.
The main purpose of outdoor burning is another reason that the city is looking at a ban.
“The other big difference between outdoor burning and campfires is that campfires are for the purpose of enjoyment in one sense or another,” said Pley. That includes cooking, ceremonial purposes, or social enjoyment.
“An outdoor burning fire is intended to make stuff go away.”
The purpose of the fire is what will drive enforcement and fines, Pley added.
“That’s really the test that we’ll apply if we have complaints about fires. We’ll be looking to see if they’re compliant with campfire regulations and what the intent of the fire is,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean you can have a small fire to make things go away.”
That’s what the proposed new bylaw is meant to address.
“It’s generally not a great way to dispose of your waste by burning it,” said Alemany.
Tackling outdoor burning goes hand in hand with an upcoming ban on pre-1994 non-EPA certified wood stoves that will be implemented Valley-wide in 2017.
Other causes, like slash burning, are being lobbied against as well.
“Slash burning is something we took forward to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities conference this past weekend,” said Alemany.
“We urged that the ministry of environment bring forward stricter regulations for that burning so that it would jive with what cites are doing to limit air quality emissions.”
It looks like changes are coming, Alemany added, citing an e-mail from provincial air quality meteorologist Earl Plaine that the MoE was considering harsher open burning regulations.
According to the MoE, “the province is reviewing and revising the Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation (OBSCR) under the Environmental Management Act (EMA).”
Proposed amendments include establishing varying smoke sensitivity zones, smoke management plans and setback distances of 500 metres from residences and businesses and 1,000 metres from schools, hospitals and care facilities.
British Columbia residents see the proposed changes at www.env.gov.bc.ca/epd/codes/open_burning and can offer comment on the proposed changes by e-mailing OBSCR@gov.bc.ca or mailing them to PO Box 28159, Westshore RPO, Victoria, B.C., V9B 6K8. Deadline for comments is July 17.