Nation Valley News
WINCHESTER — The new North Dundas Council has reignited the push for a revamped outdoor burn bylaw.
An earlier version of the controversial proposal — with increased restrictions on agricultural burning — had pitted the wants of the farming community against the wishes of the township’s fire service when first raised two years ago.
Pushback from the Dundas Federation of Agriculture prompted the previous Duncan administration to quietly place the matter on the back burner — until rekindled in front of new Mayor Tony Fraser and his colleagues on Jan 15.
Both camps in the debate were again present to make their cases, with two local fire chiefs making their pitch for the latest draft bylaw, followed by a DFA delegation that highlighted concerns with some of its measures.
“We hope you consider it and accept it as is,” said Mountain Fire Chief Raymond Sherrer of the proposal, in a report he and Morewood Fire Chief Ken Byers delivered to council on behalf of the Fire Chiefs’ Steering Committee that evening.
Both men described the new draft as “fair,” with Byers noting it followed two years of “long deliberations” with bylaw officer Brent Mattice “as well as taking input from community groups.”
Mobile technology gets much of the blame for the firefighters’ desire to more tightly regulate brush-pile fires: In an era where everyone is armed with a cell phone — and fewer people understand farming — passersby routinely call in fires or smoke they happen to see in fields where brush is being burned as part of normal agricultural operations. Warranted or not, that compels local volunteer firefighters to respond to the scene — a process that often begins with a time-consuming search because fields lack civic addresses.
“The Fire Department sees a need to curb the number of calls from passersby — callers assuming there is an emergency,” says the key information report received at the council meeting.
In 2016, open-air burning accounted for the highest source of call volumes to the Department. The council of the day also dealt with an uptick in public complaints about smoke affecting air quality of people living near such fires.
The latest iteration of the bylaw would allow agricultural fires when a permit is issued by one of the township fire chiefs, who may take up to three days to inspect the site before burning can begin. Brush-pile sizes would be limited to 33 feet in diameter, 16 feet in width and 16 feet in height. Windrows would not be permitted, individual piles must be at least 100 feet apart and a minimum 250 feet from any building.
“I think the Steering Committee did yeoman’s work,” said Deputy Mayor (and North Dundas Fire Commissioner) Al Armstrong. “The impetus was from issues that the fire department had been dealing with for a long time.”
DFA Vice President Ryan DeVries, accompanied by fellow farmers Tom MacGregor and Jim Shaw, expressed concern about the document but acknowledged it as a “large improvement” over the original draft of 2016. “We still feel there could be some clarification,” DeVries said.
The South Dundas dairy producer rejected the requirement for a pre-burn inspection, arguing the farmer’s signature on the permit should suffice. “The farmer should be able to decide if they need the fire department on standby,” DeVries added.
It was impossible for a fire to be extinguished completely before nightfall, he also pointed out, “because with the size of stumps and stuff, there will still be some embers.”
Proposed setbacks from buildings and between piles represented “best practice recommendations,” he said, but required flexibility “because conditions can vary depending on thickness of brush and height of trees on fence-lines, municipal drains or bush-lot clearings.” He requested a reduction in the setback from buildings to a 100-metre minimum and later highlighted how the bylaw made no provision for “burn box” technology.
DeVries noted that farmers agree they shouldn’t burn agricultural plastics but pointed out that North Dundas lacks a recycling program for that material.
He criticized the township’s proposed municipal exemption from the bylaw, allowing North Dundas to burn as needed in the course of “day to day operations.”
Proposed fines and cost-recovery were also “mean-spirited and overbearing for a first offence,” he said. “MTO rates should only be used on repeat offenders and out-of-township situations — as our taxes have already paid for the trucks and stuff. We feel it’s a bit to the extreme.”
The DFA delegation also targeted the proposed maximum brush-pile sizes. MacGregor relayed how he had seen much larger piles in a neighbouring municipality. “Most of them were probably three to four times the size we’re talking. That seems to be normal.”
Council agreed to discuss the bylaw further at its next meeting without circulating it back to the Steering Committee for further comment.
“Push has come to shove … and I think it’s up to us now,” said Mayor Fraser.