Cumberland residents bring air quality concerns to council

Two items on the Feb. 13 council meeting agenda highlighted the village’s air quality issues

The issue of Cumberland’s air quality was back on the agenda at the Village’s bi-weekly council meeting on Feb. 13.

Two agenda items highlighted residents’ concerns about air quality and what should be done about the prevalence of wood-burning appliances in the village.

The Comox Valley has some of the worst air quality in British Columbia, according to multiple studies from various government and environmental agencies in the last several years. Though the largest source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) comes from hazard abatement practices within the forestry sector, air quality is particularly poor in the winter months when wood-burning stoves are more often used.

While studies have mainly focused on Courtenay, in early 2017, a mobile monitoring station for air quality found that northeast Cumberland was a “hot spot” for PM2.5 levels in the Comox Valley.

Studies have shown that high levels of PM2.5 are detrimental to people’s health.

Read More: B.C. government releases report on Courtenay air quality and meteorology patterns

The first delegation of the night was from Eduardo Uranga, who spoke about council’s decision not to pursue a bylaw regulating solid fuel burning appliances at the Dec. 11, 2017 meeting.

The bylaw — the Solid Fuel-Burning Appliance Bylaw No. 1071 (pg. 381) — was rejected due to the impossibility of properly enforcing it and the difficulty in recognizing which homes in Cumberland operate wood stoves. Council decided that continuing to educate residents about how to properly burn firewood and the CVRD’s regional wood stove rebate program would be a better way to move forward.

Read More: Cumberland council takes steps to improve air quality

Uranga said he disagreed with council’s decision.

“It’s very clear to me living in Cumberland that the houses with wood stoves have a chimney,” he said. “You don’t need to do much more than look and see if a house has a chimney. And if you see smoke coming out, you know there’s a problem.”

The rest of Uranga’s delegation was about the benefits of using a heat pump instead of wood stoves or natural gas heating.

“What I’m trying to propose is that there’s an alternative, it’s economically viable and also socially responsible and sustainable,” he told council. “The cost of running a wood stove for a year — if you buy the wood — costs close to $1,200. If you use a heat pump, it would cost approximately $600.

“That’s running the same amount of energy in the same conditions. Why are we trying to avoid doing something if a solution is there?”

Coun. Jesse Ketler responded to Uranga’s delegation by saying she agreed there was a problem and that it needs to be addressed, but that education “would be the best way forward for the problem at this point.” She added that in the distant future, she’d like to see a district-wide heating system that taps into geothermal energy from underground.

“There are lots of ways to address [air quality]. They unfortunately all take money,” she said. “I think we’re doing the best we can with the resources we have at this moment.”

Following Uranga’s delegation, council discussed a letter sent by resident Mary Lynn DesRoches.

The letter urged council to not issue permits to install wood-burning appliances in all new homes constructed in the village, as well as in current homes that do not have such appliances.

“This winter, villagers have suffered dismal air quality,” wrote DesRoches, adding that four air quality advisories have been issued in Cumberland so far this winter. “Every time I drive into the village, my car’s interior fills with smoke. I smell its acrid odour and my eyes burn.”

Council eventually approved directing Village staff to look into the permitting process for installing wood-burning appliances and the feasibility of refusing to issue permits that allow for their installation or use.

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