Chilliwack farmers and ag contractors will not be getting any additional outdoor burning days for 2016.
Council considered the request at Tuesday’s meeting, in the wake of a wicked windstorm that brought down 75 trees across Chilliwack last fall.
What they’ll be getting instead is a longer spring outdoor burning season, running until May 16, followed by a shorter season come fall.
Ultimately it will be the same number of days, said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
They’ll revert back to normal in 2017.
“Council has made it clear we wish to see burning reduced in our community,” said Gaetz at the council meeting.
The mayor receives “numerous” complaints about it, when fire smoke is visible on local hillsides, given the sensitive air shed issue.
The decision to extend spring season made sense, acknowledged councillors Sam Waddington and Chris Kloot in council chambers.
An extra month added to the spring season was supportable, said Coun. Waddington.
But he’s also looking forward to alternative solutions, like chipping rather than burning, and “more prohibitive” fines for outdoor burning, under Mayor Gaetz’s leadership.
A severe windstorm that hit Chilliwack that brought down trees in November and left many rural and agricultural property owners, particularly in Ryder Lake, with fallen trees, unearthed rootballs, and branch debris.
Ag operators under the current rules, are given only four months per year to burn windfall debris and brush, to remove fire fuel from their properties.
But there is no outdoor burning permitted on urban residential land, commercial or industrial land.
“From the information we get from Fraser Health, people in the Fraser Valley have increased rates of respiratory illness,” said Gaetz.
People are also becoming much less tolerant about any kind of smoke in the air, she said.
Outdoor burning on ag land is a touchy topic in Chilliwack. Despite having a shorter outdoor burning period than communities that allow year-round burning, Chilliwack officials still received a whopping 287 burn complaints last year.
Coun. Waddington said he discovered during a ride-along he took with the fire department that sometimes the stipulations of burning permits were not being followed.
Sometimes it was fires that were too large, or they were burning prohibited materials.
Mayor Gaetz asked staff to come back with a recommendation for a higher outdoor burning permit fee, which is $25 under the current rates.
“That’s not a true reflection of the costs,” she said. “I would like to see a higher burn permit fee.”
Most people would rather there was no subsidization of fees by non-users.
“People assume there is no outdoor burning around the Lower Mainland but Delta and Surrey have year-round burning,” said Gaetz.
In that way Chilliwack is “further ahead” than its neighbours.
Chilliwack will have to eventually seek “new ways” of dealing with waste. Maybe chipping will one day become cheaper if operators are no longer able to burn.
“We’re so used to burning that we don’t think of the effect it has on our neighbours,” said Mayor Gaetz.
“I think we’ll have to change our practices, and get away from burning.”