Municipality looks to tackle industrial burning legislation

New rules for pile burning could be coming to Sun Peaks after a recent blaze resulted in a bunch of complaints. Photo by Joel Barde.

Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) is considering creating a bylaw amendment to guard against industrial burning, after a pile burn carried out by the resort last month in Parking Lot 5 resulted in numerous messages to council asking it to intervene. 

SPMRM Mayor Al Raine said council received around eight or nine messages about the burn, which took place between May 5 and 7 and saw the resort burn up the remains of a harvesting project (tree limbs, branches) that took place on the site. 

In an email to SPIN, Aidan Kelly, chief marketing officer for Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR), said the burn was stopped earlier than planned, as rented equipment designed to mitigate smoke did not perform as intended or promised.

In her letter to council, Sun Peaks resident Denise Davis said the smoke was so bad she was effectively unable to enjoy the outdoors. 

“The air quality is very poor and we can even smell the smoke in our home with all of our windows closed,” she wrote in a May 6 letter to council. “We tried to go for a walk, but our eyes burned and our throats became scratchy.” 

Davis added she was “very concerned” with SPR to carry out a burn in such proximity to a residential area within a municipality.  

“Because of Covid health restrictions, all we can do is walk, ride a bike or run,” she wrote. “These are not possible with the poor air quality. Why should the residents of Sun Peaks have to endure this compromised air quality?” 

Raine said council recognizes the problem and will look at how other municipalities, like Whistler and Revelstoke, handle industrial burns. He said a bylaw could regulate where burning takes place relative to residential property and even whether wood could be dry or wet and ensure burning is done during a period where smoke will disperse properly. 

Raine said the issue was made worse by a temperature inversion at the time of the burn, which effectively kept the smoke in the valley, making the East Village side of the valley especially troublesome. 

“The corporation tried an experimental method by having some big fans there and having a fire-rated trench, but it was green timber and it still caused a lot of smoke,” he said. 

The industrial burning issue is made a little more complicated by the fact that the location where the recent burn took place, in P5, is actually on Crown land and is subject to provincial regulation governing industrial burns.  

According to the province’s Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation (OBSCR), Sun Peaks is considered a “medium sensitivity zone” when it comes to open burning on Crown land, meaning any fire is subject to a number of requirements set out by the province, including that a positive ventilation forecast is obtained. 

Sun Peaks Fire Rescue Chief Dean Schiavon is in favour of the municipality amending its fire control bylaw, and said it could help regulate any future fires that take place on Crown land near the municipality.  

In a letter to council, he noted the current bylaw on municipal books that governs fires does not reflect changes that were made to the OBSCR in 2019. Schiavon also wrote that historically forest fuel management burning has occurred in Sun Peaks over the shoulder seasons, but “unfortunately, [SPR] did not completely adhere to the BC Open Burning Smoke Control Regulation (OBSCR) that had been updated in September of 2019.”

“Once they were made aware of the newer regulations on Friday, May 7th, they stopped burning. They will ensure that any further slash pile burning does follow the OBSCR.” 

In an interview with SPIN, Schiavon said an amendment to the community’s current bylaws could give the municipality more influence over fires that occur on Crown land that lies within municipal boundaries. 

“I want the bylaws to actually reference the smoke control regulations, so that anybody that is doing any sort of burning up in our area is following those regulations,” said Schiavon. 

“Open burning smoke control regulations also require anybody doing industrial scale burning to make sure the venting index is good, among other requirements, that will help ensure residents will be impacted very little by the smoke produced.”

In a statement to SPIN, SPR said it is not in favour of the additional legislation, given that industrial burn legislation for Crown land is already in place. 

“All relevant laws are in place for industrial burns so we don’t feel additional changes are required at this time,” said Kelly. “Managing projects like this properly and safely are of top priority for the organization.” 

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