Public pushback has quenched a plan to ban beachfires in Tofino, at least for now.
Tofino’s municipal council will let it’s beach fire ban idea simmer for a few more weeks after receiving a blaze of opposition from constituents.
Council seemed set to launch a year-round beach fire ban earlier this month, having voted 4-2 in favour of at a committee meeting in late September, but instead pressed pause on the plan and asked their staff to report back with potential options and enforcement capabilities.
The Oct. 13 decision to request more information was motivated by feedback to a district-led survey that garnered 516 responses as well as a petition opposing a beach fire ban launched by resident Ryan Orr that received over 2,000 signatures.
Coun. Andrea McQuade said she was happy to see so much feedback, though she noted 404 of the petition’s signatures were Tofino residents.
“I want to stress that when council solicits public opinion, we do so in a manner that attempts to hear the voice of the community the loudest: residents, homeowners, second homeowners. While it is without a doubt to me that the voice of guests, visitors and potential visitors is extremely important, this discussion really centred itself around the value of beach fires to our community, our residents and that’s who we are beholden to as a council.”
In light of the unprecedented feedback received, Tofino’s chief administrative officer Bob MacPherson told council there was no urgency to make a decision that day.
“The period of the year where this challenge is most acute is behind us now,” he said. “Certainly if you would like your staff to do some more research on some aspects of this, we would be more than pleased to do that.”
Coun. Tom Stere said he remained opposed to a ban, but was willing to listen to all aspects of the issue, and said he hoped the beach fire discussion would present a “gateway” to a broader conversation around bylaw enforcement in general.
“There is a much larger issue here that this brings forward,” he said. “One is the discussion around the impacts of our dominant industry on the community and, in a sense, the resources that are available for that.”
Coun. Britt Chalmers agreed.
“It’s not just the fires, it is the beach experience and it’s the town’s capacity and what we expect from our community and our guests,” she said.
Coun. Al Anderson suggested that even those opposed to a ban, still seemed in favour of better beach management and enforcement.
“All the emphasis that Tofino council and indeed the community of Tofino gives to environmental values and yet, we are somehow OK to let our beaches be degraded by fire debris and the garbage and the impacts that happen when there’s many, many fires and gatherings around the fires,” he said.
Coun. McMaster, who had brought the original motion to Sept. 28’s COW meeting, said he believed the negative impacts of beach fires have been allowed to continue for too long.
“I felt that we needed to knock this thing on the head while we came up with a solution. I tend to think of it like a leaking dam. You’ve got to stop the flow of water before you actually fix the dam, otherwise the dam would get destroyed. I still think we’re in that position,” he said.
He added that continuing to allow beach fires seemed counter intuitive to Tofino’s environmental image.
“The Environmental Protection Agency says a single beach fire emits as much pollution as a heavy duty truck driving 564 miles yet, in Tofino, we have a bylaw where you’re not allowed to idle your car for over three minutes. Something’s wrong there when you can’t idle your car for three minutes, but you can have a beach fire that emits far more pollution,” he said.
“We keep on saying, ‘Listen to the science, listen to the experts.’ I’m saying now is a good time to take a pause. Let’s get this ban in place for next summer while we’re trying to figure out a solution, otherwise we’ll just go on with another Band-Aid and another Band-Aid. I’m not opposed to coming up with a solution and I’m glad to hear we’re not in a rush to, but we can’t just keep on dithering like this; it’s getting worse and worse.”
Coun. Dan Law said he remained opposed to a beach fire prohibition and suggested beach fires are an important pastime for community members who have few other options for leisure.
“We have very few amenities…We’re not Parksville, we’re not Qualicum, we’re not Nanaimo. We do not have pools or gyms, we don’t have a sports team, we don’t have a high school, we don’t have a lot of stuff here,” he said. “This is something that the community and, in this case, I would say the loud majority has spoken very clearly in support of as one of the amenities that we hold core…It was an unprecedented survey, we had a huge amount of respondents and the vast majority of them were against a ban.”
Council agreed to direct their staff to report back at a future meeting with options to address health, environmental and safety issues related to beach fires for the coming 2021 tourist season.
For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.