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Courtenay considers ways to regulate excessive wood smoke

Fine particulate matter an ongoing concern for Comox Valley residents
PM 2.5 concentrations are highest during the winter months and evenings. File photo

Courtenay council has given third reading to three nuisance abatement bylaw amendments to help regulate excessive wood smoke. The amendments establish nuisance smoke as that which visibly drifts onto an adjacent property, and which interferes with the use and enjoyment of private or public property.

Wood burning appliances are a significant source of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) — an ongoing concern for Comox Valley residents.

“Measurements from the provincial air quality station indicate that it’s the greatest concern, and we experience exceedances multiple times a year,” Jeanniene Tazzioli, manager of engineering and environmental projects, said at the Sept. 26 council meeting. “Concentrations are highest during the winter months and evenings from about 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., and are low almost all other times, except for periods of wildfire smoke.”

While most people comply, director of corporate services Kate O’Connell said there’s always those who need more encouragement to comply with burning bylaws.

“That’s where the enforcement component comes in,” O’Connell said.

The Sept. 20 regional district board meeting included a presentation about air quality. Coun. Wendy Morin notes that Medical Health Officer Charmaine Enns said there is no safe wood smoke level, even when it comes to the cleanest stoves.

“We’re really looking at a harm reduction approach to this,” Morin said. “We’re not expecting that people will stop burning. People need to have wood stoves as backups in rural areas, and even sometimes in the cities.”

READ: Courtenay air quality improves, but still below acceptable limits

At the aforementioned meeting, Coun. Doug Hillian took issue with the fact that some B.C. municipalities are using PurpleAir monitors that provide useful data about PM 2.5.

“This is a health issue, and we know that excessive wood smoke has deleterious effects on people’s health, and yet it’s left to municipal government to come up with a way not only of monitoring it, but coming up with solutions,” he said.

Hillian asked where the city stands in terms of working with the region to establish additional monitoring stations.

“We’ve been focused on a few technologies, but we seem to be focusing on the PurpleAir monitors,” director of engineering services Chris Davidson said. “They seem to be relatively affordable, easy to implement, and they are the ones the province are recommending.”

In the next year or so, he figures the city could propose a pilot program for council’s consideration.

Staff have proposed two employment scenarios for additional bylaw enforcement during winter. A two-person team working daily four-hour shifts would cost $121,250 in salaries. A year-round service increase would require two full-time officers, and a vehicle, for $215,725.

Council directed staff to proceed with a public education campaign about the bylaw amendments to promote wood burning best practices, and to encourage voluntary compliance.

Bylaw service costs will be referred to the 2023 budget process for consideration.

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