A mantle of smoke overhangs the city of Port Alberni, indicating a thermal inversion of the sort that commonly traps harmful smoke particulate in winter. (MIKE YOUDS PHOTO)

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District moves on new burning restrictions

COVID-19 threat hastens discussion, halts public input

Some new burning restrictions are on the way in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District to help improve air quality in the Alberni Valley.

After engagement with the Port Alberni Air Quality Council, Ministry of Environment and Island Health, ACRD staff brought two bylaws to the board on Wednesday, April 8.

The first bylaw regulates wood burning appliances within the ACRD, requiring that solid-fuel burning appliances (such as woodstoves and fireplaces) conform to CSA/EPA standards or be permanently disconnected and removed by 2023.

The second bylaw regulates open burning within the ACRD, with rules about the the time of year and time of day, size of fires, number of fires on a parcel of land, setbacks from combustible materials, permitted burning materials and a few other provisions. The full bylaw can be found on the ACRD’s website.

Although the bylaws don’t require public hearings, ACRD staff originally planned to hold two open houses for the new rules. However, due to COVID-19, the ACRD is no longer in a position where public meetings are possible.

“Given the public health concern about wood burning, we felt it was appropriate to bring these bylaws to the board to consider,” said Mike Irg, manager of planning and development. “It’s important given the concerns that have been raised around wood burning by the public health officer, and the impact it could have on the community if people get COVID-19.”

Irg added that the ACRD has a “limited ability” to enforce these new rules because there is no ticketing bylaw in place yet.

Currently, open burning restrictions have been issued across British Columbia’s high smoke sensitivity zones (including the Alberni Valley), and B.C.-wide burning restrictions will come into effect on April 16 in response to COVID-19.

READ MORE: Increased coronavirus cases spark B.C.-wide burning restrictions

READ MORE: B.C. wide burning restrictions come into effect April 16

Director John McNabb said on Wednesday that these new rules from the ACRD are a culmination of years of work by the air quality council.

“We’ve been promising this for many years,” said McNabb. “It may not be perfect, but…we need to get it in place and can modify it as needs arise. It’s something the community has been asking for for a very long time.”

But some directors expressed concern about the lack of public engagement.

“This process was supposed to have public input,” said director Penny Cote. “I don’t feel comfortable about just pushing it through.”

“I don’t agree with putting this forward without public input,” added director Tanya Shannon. “I think it’s wrong, just to be blunt. Even if that public input looks different than what we would normally do, I think we have to give that opportunity.”

Shannon also expressed concerns about the solid-fuel burning regulations. These would impact producers like Arrowvale Campground and Collins Farm, which uses modified woodstoves for processing maple syrup.

READ MORE: Alberni Valley farm celebrates all things maple

“This puts them in a situation where they would get blanketed under this [bylaw],” Shannon said.

The solid-fuel burning bylaw was defeated by the board on Wednesday, but it will be revised by staff to take farming production into consideration and then voted on again.

Staff will reach out to the public for engagement in the coming weeks on the outdoor burning bylaw before it is adopted.


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