By Stephen Dafoe
Sturgeon County – A new bylaw that would send less firefighters out to warn residents about their unsafe burning habits and give peace officers more tools to fine those who regularly break the rules unanimously passed first and second reading during the July 13 Sturgeon County Council meeting.
Bylaw 1224/10 seeks to introduce a series of fines for those who engage in unsafe burning practices. Tickets would range from $500 to $3,000 depending on the infraction and how many times the infraction has occurred. There is currently no fine system under the County’s seven-year-old burning bylaw. Firefighters and fire vehicles are often sent out to deal with those burning without a permit and under the current system landowners are billed for recovery of firefighting costs. Invoicing homeowners has not proven to be an effective method.
In explaining the motivation for the new bylaw, Acting Fire Chief Pat Mahoney told County Council the new bylaw was an expansion of the current bylaw with better definitions and better tools for his department and the County’s peace officers.
“It will give us the opportunity to deal with situations as they occur in a more timely manner, utilizing our peace officers and issuing a violation ticket,” Mahoney said.
Under the new bylaw a person lighting or burning a fire without a valid permit would be fined $500 for a first offence, $1,000 for a second offence and $2,000 for a subsequent occurrence. The same scale of fines would apply to anyone lighting or burning a fire during a fire ban. Failing to comply with the conditions of a fire permit range from $250 to $1,000 depending on the number of times the infraction occurred. The bylaw’s harshest penalties are reserved for those who wilfully fail to comply with the bylaw. Those who do so will receive a $1,000 fine for the first offence, $2,000 for a second offence and $3,000 for a subsequent wilful violation.
Council heard that education and information programs have not succeeded in getting some county landowners to be compliant with safe burning practices. There have been a number of repeat instances where county residents are burning without valid permits or burning in ways not permitted by the fire permit.
Acting Chief Mahoney and administration had hoped council would give all three readings to the new bylaw; however, a motion to give third reading failed to garner the required unanimous vote, Mayor Rigney and Councillors Flynn and McGillis voting against.
Mayor Rigney said his objection to giving all three readings in one day was twofold: he wanted to ensure that a sufficient period of time was allotted to educate the public about the new fine structure and he wanted to make sure council had sufficient time to review the bylaw to ensure that they were doing their job.
“This is a great piece of work,” Rigney told Mahoney, adding that his reluctance to give third reading was no reflection on the acting fire chief, his department or their work. “We do have a duty of oversight and accountability.”
The bylaw is set to come before Sturgeon County Council for third reading following the summer recess.