By Stephen Dafoe
Sturgeon County – County Council passed first and second reading to a series of amendments to its burning bylaw with a 6-1 vote Mar. 13.
County Fire Chief Pat Mahoney brought his list of proposed amendments forward Tuesday morning in response to a briefing note Mahoney had brought forward to Council at the end of February, a document that outlined a number of planned fire risk mitigation recommendations.
The principal change in the bylaw is a year-round requirement for fire permits. Mahoney said traditionally the County has required fire permits from Apr. 1 until Oct. 31; however, changes in climate have led to dry conditions in Sturgeon County in the off seasons as well. Under the proposed amendments there would be no charge to county residents for the burning permit, but the permits would be required throughout the year.
Approved fire pits would be exempt throughout the County, provided the fire is attended and lit for the purposes of recreation, cooking or warming.
It is hoped the changes will reduce the County’s risk of financial losses due to fires. Over the past decade Sturgeon County has experienced a number of large-scale wildland / urban interface fires as well as numerous smaller fires. Combating and extinguishing those fires has cost Sturgeon County millions of dollars.
The burning bylaw was amended in 2010 to include penalties for a number of fire-related offences, including burning during a fire ban and failing to follow fire permit conditions. The County believes those new bylaw provisions were successful in the spring of 2011, which was a dry and busy fire season for the County.
Mayor Don Rigney cast the single opposing vote on the amendments. “It lacks regard for the unique rural / urban make up of our community,” the mayor said, adding his belief that fire is a fundamental right and the proposed changes do not acknowledge the dual makeup of the County.
Councillors were set to meet with the fire chief Tuesday afternoon to go over some of their concerns on the bylaw.
At the same meeting County Council approved the appointment of Pat Mahoney, Steve Douglas, Glenn Innis, Kandis Boddez, Ken Lauinger, Bill Willocks, Neil Roulston, Matt Roblin, Argyll Campbell, Linda Walker, Sandy Vansevenandt, Dolores Rivard, Joyce Brenneis, Kristine McKinnon, Yvonne Cyr, Lianne Long, and Shannon Gagnon as fire guardians for the 2012 fire season.
Fire guardians issue fire permits where required. The Alberta Forest and Prairie Protection Act requires the identification of fire guardians by resolution.