CORNWALL, Ontario – Cornwall City Council narrowly passed a new burn by-law at their meeting on Monday, Aug. 10.
The new burn by-law raises the required distance fires must be from buildings from two metres to seven-and-a-half metres. The new by-law also creates a complaint system for neighbours bothered by smoke.
Acting Cornwall Fire Services Chief Jeff Weber explained that complaints can be made at any time, and that a non-emergency vehicle would be sent out to put out the fire and educate the property owner. Repeat offenders could face fines, though they are not explicitly set out in the by-law itself. At the very least, the property owner could be charged a service fee for the cost of sending out a team to put out the fire.
Additionally, the by-law would require residents to have a permit, burn only between the months of May and October and only between the hours of 6 p.m. and midnight. All fires must only burn dry, cured wood and can be no larger than two metres by two metres with a maximum height of two metres.
“This by-law isn’t perfect, but what it is, is a compromise,” explained Councillor Todd Bennett. “While the people that wanted the fires back were vocal, but while not as vocal, those who don’t want the fires, were similar in numbers.”
“Usually when both sides aren’t overly happy about something, you’ve found a compromise,” Bennett went on to say.
Under the by-law, due to the seven-and-a-half metre space requirement, approximately 4,096 residential properties will be eligible to have backyard fires according to Acting Chief Weber.
Several councillors felt that this by-law did not go far enough to protect those with health issues from smoke.
“I can’t support any number of burnings in our community,” said Councillor Glen Grant. “A resident advised me this is the first summer they can sit on their back deck. They haven’t been able to sit out and enjoy their property in seven years. When we defeat this, we can put a by-law in place where the Chief or Acting Chief can make exceptions.”
“I commend Councillor Bennett for trying to hammer out a compromise, but this does not seem to be a compromise,” added Councillor Elaine MacDonald. “The basic right to breath trumps the benefit of enjoying fun in your backyard.”
Mayor Bernadette Clement reminded Council that getting to this point was not easy.
“What was difficult for me personally was how we came to this topic and having to put things on hold and then go back and do community consultation. We learned in that process. You learn the hard way,” she said.
Ultimately the Mayor stated that in her view, governing was not about being popular.
“This by-law will not be popular one way or the other. We are not here to be popular, we are here to make decisions and explain to the public why we make them,” she said. “It is not tenable for us to have no by-law. We need this and we need it sooner rather than later.”
The by-law was passed in a vote of five-to-four with Mayor Bernadette Clement, and councillors Todd Bennett, Carilyne Hébert, Eric Bergeron, and Syd Gardiner with councillors Glenn Grant, Maurice Dupelle, Elaine MacDonald, and Claude McIntosh voting against. Councillors Dean Hollingsworth and Justin Towndale were absent.