Burn piles smoke out neighbours

Provincial regulations set up to prevent pollution start rolling out

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Residents who protested clearcut logging on Beddis Road are still having difficulty enjoying their neighbourhood as a result of the operation, with smoke from burning slash piles making the outdoors unpleasant since before the new year.

Beddis Road resident Darryl Martin has sent a letter to Premier John Horgan’s office and notified the RAPP line (Report All Poachers and Polluters) about the constant burning.

“This is a serious situation at many levels,” Martin told the Driftwood. “Smoke like this is not just a nuisance, it is a health hazard. And it puts tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere yet is completely avoidable. There are many other ways to deal with the tonnes of debris left over from the clearcut.”

The owner of the Beddis Road property in question, Gary Stunder, could not be reached for comment before the Driftwood’s press deadline.

While there are currently no rules against logging on most private lands on Salt Spring, the Beddis situation and neighbour response has inspired the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee to start developing more protections for the Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem.

The new provincial Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation that went into effect in September should meanwhile limit the amount of smoke pollution entering the environment. 

According to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, “While open burning produces air pollutants and greenhouse gases, it is also an effective way to reduce fire hazard by disposing of debris from logging and other activities. OBSCR ensures that when burning does take place, its impacts on air quality and human health are reduced.”

As part of that effort, the ministry added, “Those who burn under the regulation are required to explore all possible options to reduce, reuse or recycle as much of the material as possible.”

Salt Spring is part of the high sensitivity zone for air quality, meaning there are greater restrictions on smoke from open burning. Regulations in the zone include burn periods of a maximum two days, and burning no more than six days within a calendar month. Material is required to be well-dried so it burns faster, and burns can only take place on days forecasted as “good” on the B.C. Ventilation Index, with a good or fair forecast for the next day.

Salt Spring Fire Chief Arjuna George said the fire department responds to all burning complaints it receives to determine if there is a fire threat to buildings or property, or if there are prohibited materials that cause noxious smoke. At this time their action is limited to burning they deem to be a fire threat or hazard.

As George reported to the Salt Spring Fire Protection District Board on Sept. 16, 2019, the regulation will mean a big change to local burning practices as it is adopted. He has recommended the island look into long-term solutions for dealing with wood waste, such as a community chipper and/or a high-efficiency underground incinerator.

How the provincial regulation will be enforced before local bylaws are drafted to match is still somewhat in question. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy states its regional directors can prohibit further burning or order that a fire be extinguished if they decide that a burn is causing pollution. The directors will receive information about problem fires through the RAPP line and other means. 

People concerned about smoke that doesn’t appear to be a fire threat or illegal burns should contact the RAPP line at 1-877-942-7277. They can contact the staff in the Air Quality Section at 604-582-5272 if air quality is being degraded due to open burning.

For more on this story, see the Jan. 15, 2020 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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