Regional board waters down air quality bylaw

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen rejects enforcement of wood burning

Strict new rules to help clear the region’s air are slowly going up in smoke.

The latest change came last Thursday as the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board chipped away at a smoke control bylaw it first considered a year earlier.

As originally conceived, the bylaw sought to eliminate the nuisance created by smoke from campfires, open burning and wood-burning appliances. However, public opposition and overlap with local and provincial laws led to the elimination of sections pertaining to campfires and open burning.

What remains, however, still specifies that the only approved fuels for wood-burning appliances are pellets, fire logs or seasoned wood with a moisture content of 20 per cent or less.

“I would be very surprised if any mountain residents burn unseasoned wood; in fact, it is an insult to me to think any of us would be that ignorant,” Anarchist Mountain resident Irvin Redekopp wrote in a letter to Mark Pendergraft, the RDOS director for the area.

“For one thing, we want and need efficient burning in our appliances, and green wood certainly does not provide this.”

The bylaw also allows for inspectors to enter people’s homes, with the owner’s permission, to ensure compliance with that aspect of the bylaw and another part that requires fireplaces to meet national safety standards. Violators could be fined up to $2,000.

At Thursday’s meeting, Pendergraft said many of his constituents feel the proposal is “a big-city bylaw, not a rural bylaw.”

“I see it as a nightmare myself as well,” he added.

Pendergraft noted, though, that enforcement of the bylaw would be complaint-driven and provide an avenue for people to deal with nuisance neighbours: “It’s not going to be Big Brother.”

Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells told the board the bylaw is “ridiculous,” and said inspectors are “not going to get into someone’s house.”

Wells instead suggested that a $10,000 grant that had been earmarked for enforcement activities be directed towards educational purposes.

A majority of the board agreed to that and also voiced support for the bylaw as rewritten, with Directors John Vassilaki, Dan Ashton, George Bush, Brad Hope, Manfred Bauer, plus Wells and Pendergraft opposed.

The amended legislation will still need a fresh round of consent from individual municipalities and areas before it can be adopted. Areas A, G and the District of Summerland turned it down previously.

Garry Litke, a Penticton city councillor who sits on the RDOS board and heads the environment committee that has been vetting the bylaw, said that regardless of where someone lives, everyone shares the same air.

“Twenty or 25 years ago, this valley was regularly immersed in smoke,” he said. “We’re cleaning up the air incrementally.”