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City council in Powell River addresses letter opposing backyard burning

"Some people want the fires gone away and other people want more fires.” ~ Mayor Dave Formosa
BURNING ISSUE: Powell River city councillors received correspondence from a resident who is opposed to recreational fires on property within the city. The city currently allows backyard fires two months out of the year to dispose of yard waste.

City of Powell River Council is awaiting a staff report on recreational backyard burning, of which they were reminded through correspondence on the issue.

At the May 18 committee of the whole meeting, in response to a letter from resident Pat Braham opposing backyard recreational fires, mayor Dave Formosa said the issue is not a new conversation and has been an issue for his duration on city council, more than 13 years.

“Some people want the fires gone away and other people want more fires,” said Formosa. “The balance that came about is we allowed backyard burning two months of the year only, by permit. It goes along with the gardening seasons so people can burn their branches and dead stuff. It was kind of the happy medium we created.

“It gives the public 10 months without backyard fires and I think it’s a compromise. I’m in favour of at least leaving it the way it is. We did shut it down for COVID-19 because of the respiratory nature of COVID-19, especially when we were learning about it and being very careful.”

Formosa said it’s a no-win situation, no matter what council does.

He said he believes the fire chief supported the current initiative of backyard burning in April and November.

“I support leaving things as they are and I think it’s a very good compromise,” said Formosa. “It’s one we all learned to accept.”

Councillor George Doubt, chair of the committee of the whole, said he believes that when the issue of backyard burning was initially raised at the committee, through a correspondence requesting it, that a staff report was requested. Doubt received affirmation from staff that a report was being worked on.

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said she is hoping that when the report comes from staff it makes it clear the need to differentiate between burning of yard waste and small residential campfires.

“These are two completely different things,” said Leishman. “Most people raising concerns about small residential campfires are assuming we’re talking about the burning of yard waste. Burning of yard waste has a lot more emissions and it’s harder on the air quality. Small backyard campfires are not as problematic, as has been seen in other communities like Squamish.

“Council gave staff some suggested amendments to the backyard burning bylaw, talking about small residential campfires that would also require a permit and there would be a size and conditions related to that. The hope is that the burning of yard waste will no longer be allowed once we have a local organics facility that can take yard waste.”

Councillor Maggie Hathaway said she agreed with the mayor and that the matter had been hashed over as long as she has lived in Powell River. She said she thinks the fire department went with a compromise in allowing backyard burning two months of the year.

She said backyard fires can create difficulties with breathing afflictions.

“I like it just the way it is but we’ll see what we get in the report,” said Hathaway.

Smoke is the issue, says councillor

Councillor Jim Palm said he agreed with Formosa and Hathaway. He said fires create smoke and smoke is the issue. He said if someone has trouble breathing and the next door neighbour is burning, there are effects.

Palm said he thinks residents will speak loudly and clearly on the issue, similar to patio smoking, which has been eradicated. He advocated keeping the bylaws as they are now.

Councillor Cindy Elliott said she is looking forward to the report and concurs with Leishman. Elliott said she wants to see a period in time where backyard waste is no longer burned, so she thinks it’s timely to look at recreational fires.

“I don’t think it’s confusing to have a bylaw for food fires and a separate one for burning anything else,” said Elliott. “Anything else will probably phase out when we have the adequate ability to compost. It’s a good time to bring it forward.”

Council voted to receive Braham’s correspondence.

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