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Change in the air? North Cowichan councillors consider burning bans, big fines, and more

Smoke often gets trapped near the ground in the Cowichan Valley, leading to poor air quality. - [Cheryl Trudell photo]
Smoke often gets trapped near the ground in the Cowichan Valley, leading to poor air quality.
— image credit: [Cheryl Trudell photo]

Severe regulations governing open burning are being considered by the Municipality of North Cowichan.

North Cowichan is looking at prohibiting all open burning within its urban-containment boundaries, and prohibiting the use of wood-burning appliances during air-quality advisories in residences with alternate heating sources.

North Cowichan is also considering putting a stop to open burning for land-clearing purposes, placing liability on property owners for fires lit on their property, and establishing larger fines for repeated offences.

The draft recommendations from staff were presented at the council meeting on Feb. 15 to elicit feedback from council as North Cowichan looks to improve the air quality in the region.

After a lengthy discussion, Coun. Al Siebring made a successful motion that could see larger properties of more than five acres be exempt from the proposed new rules, with the exact details of the exemption to be defined as the process continues.

Coun. Rob Douglas also suggested that the proposed prohibition on the use of wood-burning appliances during air-quality advisories be tweaked to allow the use of new, lower-emission wood-burning appliances.

As for the proposal to place liability on property owners for fires lit on their properties, councillors suggested that it also include occupiers of the property, as well as the property owners.

The previous council approved the adoption of a number of improvements to North Cowichan’s fire-protection bylaw in 2008 in order to improve air quality and reduce public complaints.

Since then, improving local air quality by reducing the amount of open burning and retrofitting wood-burning appliances has continued to be a topic of interest in North Cowichan.

The Cowichan Valley is widely known as having higher levels of particulate matter in its air than most other areas of the province.

The geography of the Valley, ringed by mountains, means bad air is often held at ground level at certain times of the year.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District released an extensive airshed protection strategy in 2015, noting that hospital admissions for children with respiratory diseases were on average 70 per cent higher in the Valley than the rest of B.C. between 1998 and 2012.

But, as many council members stated at the meeting, wood burning in the many rural areas of the municipality has long roots and many practical uses that may be hard to wean people from.

“People use wood to heat their homes around here, that’s just part of who we are,” said Siebring. “I think we need more education on many of these issues, not prohibition.”

Staff are expected to make further recommendations on the issue at an upcoming meeting.

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