It’s burning season in the Fraser Valley but one landowner has been creating a wall of smoke in front of Promontory in recent days leading to complaints to city hall and the Tzeachten First Nation from nearby residents and band members.
The problem? There is nothing the municipality or even the Tzeachten band can do about it.
Burning is permitted in agricultural zones only in the City of Chilliwack with a permit following certain conditions at certain times of the year, including March 1 to April 30. However, the city has no authority on reserve land.
As for the First Nation, the band has nothing in their land code to forbid such burning, according to Tzeachten general manager James Atebe.
The land in question is on Tzeachten to the west of the Bailey Landfill and the south of the Tzeachten sports field. The land is the First Nation equivalent of private property, namely, land held by a band member under a certificate of possession giving them legal title to the land.
“As a community we’ve asked him to meet with us to find a better way to manage the smoke,” Atebe told The Progress Wednesday. “We don’t have a law that prohibits burning.”
Approximately half a dozen huge piles of green debris were burning this week on Monday and Tuesday emitting thick smoke that several residents on Promontory and on the Tzeachten reserve complained about.
“There is ash all over the cars up in Promontory,” a reader called in to the paper. “It is a total mess.”
A number of others complained on social media the smoke was affecting breathing, particularly for the sick, elderly and young children.
City hall has received complaints and a spokesperson said they reached out to Tzeachten to let them know. Atebe confirmed they have had complaints forwarded and the band has received some as well, so they have reached out to the landowner to ask him to follow burning best practices.
“He’s been following the requirements from the Ministry of Environment,” Atebe said.
Indeed, according to the Ministry of Environment’s venting index, while burning was going on between April 1 and 3 the venting index for the Fraser Valley was set at “good.” By Wednesday, the venting index changed to “poor,” and a visit to the site showed that there was only smoke emitting from one pile of debris, and even that may have been smoldering from the day before.
“We don’t have a law that can put a stop to it, but he’s in touch with us,” Atebe said of the landowner. “I think he will work with us…. Our discussion with the member and also working with the City of Chilliwack fire department is to impart some best practices so, even when you are burning you must make sure the site you are burning is not too big, make sure you supply a lot of oxygen to it so it is burning free and doesn’t pollute and affect the neighbours.”
The issue of burning comes up every year in Chilliwack as those in agricultural zones are permitted to burn following certain guidelines.
Some of those guidelines, if violated, come with fines of between $250 and $1,000 per offence include: burning only permitted between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.; burning only allowed when ventilation index is “good” or “fair”; all material burned must originate from the site; burn pile size is limited to two metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high; and land clearing burning is not permitted at any time and no permits can be issued for this purpose.
This latter guideline means that even if the land in question were in a municipal agricultural zone, it would not be permitted.