With temperatures plummeting during an unseasonable cold snap there is no better time to talk about fires.
Specifically, Princeton needs to talk about what you can burn, and where you can burn it.
As it stands now, that’s pretty much everything and any place that strikes your fancy.
The municipality’s open burning bylaw is so out of date, it was actually written when Trudeau was prime minister.
That would be the first Prime Minister Trudeau.
Princeton’s open burning bylaw – which is formally called a bylaw to “prohibit the fouling or contamination of the atmosphere within the municipality” – is woefully inadequate and provides no cover for bylaw enforcement when it comes to complaints about smelly, smoky, and potentially harmful fires.
The bylaw simply disallows open burning between April 15th and October 15th of each year.
If a member of the public calls town hall and asks if it’s permitted to burn leaves in the fall, for example, the answer is that the practice is very much discouraged but it’s not against municipal law.
It’s just not enough.
Provincial legislation covering burning and emissions is comprehensive. Therefore under the Environmental Management Act one isn’t allowed to burn carpets, say. You can’t burn paint, or animal carcasses, rubber, domestic waste, manure or plastics and so on…it’s a very long list.
Of course that law applies to everyone in BC, no matter where they live. The fines for contravention can range up to $1 million.
However a local prosecution under the EMA is unlikely.
Pursuing such a case through the upper courts would cost tens of thousands of dollars and prove a lengthy endeavor.
That’s why municipalities have bylaws that effectively parrot provincial laws and wisdom, so enforcement is practical.
The burning issue isn’t fire danger and preventing forest fires.
The overwhelming concerns with open burning are air quality, the emission of toxins, and unsightly odor and smoke.
Who wants to step outside into their backyard on a crisp December morning to discover the neighbor is roasting drywall and railway ties?
This is not a hard fix.
There are numerous bylaws from other communities that could serve as working models for Princeton. Surely political will is on the side of clean air and happy campers.
The Open Air Burning Regulations Bylaw for the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen is nine pages, fairly straightforward and was last updated when Stephen Harper was in office.
That might be a good place to start.
Given everything that has been learned over the last 35 years about the importance of air quality Princeton just needs to get this done.