Fires on Lantzville’s beaches are no longer allowed.
District of Lantzville councillors voted 3-2 on Monday to approve a fire services bylaw that immediately bans open air fires on all beaches within its borders.
The ban is effective immediately and violation of the bylaw carries a fine ranging from $500 to $10,000.
Although the bylaw bans open-air beach fires, it does permit the use of propane-fuelled campfire apparatuses on Lantzville beaches between the hours of 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.
In addition to approving the ban, Lantzville councillors also voted against creating a five-month-term beach-use committee during the same meeting. The committee would have explored alternative solutions to an outright ban on beach fires and would have consisted of one member of council and four residents.
Councillors had raised concerns about the environmental impact of beach fires and noted complaints about increased partying on Lantzville’s beaches, often associated with the beach fires.
Councillors did not specifically discuss the beach fire ban bylaw during Monday’s meeting, but did talk at length about the idea of a beach fire committee.
Coun. Karen Proctor, who suggested the idea of a committee, said she’s received plenty of feedback from community and the majority of people want some kind of a solution.
“The majority of responses I read said, ‘can you please come up with some sort of compromise so that respectful people in Lantzville could enjoy beach fires?’ So, I thought this committee would be one way that we could look at that and I think as a council we do have an obligation to do that because this decision has become very political, very emotional and it is really important to a lot of people.”
Proctor dismissed the notion that council shouldn’t explore alternatives simply because they might cost money, adding that the community deserves a better response from council.
“I think that the citizens deserve a better explanation than that and possibly some involvement,” she said.
Coun. Ian Savage said he couldn’t support a committee that is entirely council- and staff-driven but would be open to a committee that is volunteer-based, while Coun. Jamie Wilson said the district’s committees are already made up of volunteers and suggested the issue of beach fires be dealt with by the district’s parks and recreation committee.
Mayor Mark Swain said there is nothing stopping people from forming a volunteer group that can better examine the issue and present their findings to council, adding that there is nothing stopping anyone from presenting before council. He said when it comes to the fire ban, he believes councillors can deal with it through a series of motions, adding that he’s concerned about staff time if a committee were to be created.
“We need to make sure our staff our available and passing this motion would take away from other things and I don’t think that is the intent of this council.”
Speaking to the News Bulletin afterward, Wilson, who was originally against a beach fire ban but changed his mind, said being on council caused him to examine issues in different ways.
“Had I not been on council, I probably would have been pretty outspoken for still allowing beach fires, but being on council forces you to actually go and walk the beach and talk to residents,” he said, adding that he saw the amount of trash that was being left behind at numerous fire pits.
Wilson also said he would be open to the district renting out a set number of fire rings that could be used in designated locations. He said fire rings could be booked in advanced using an online system that would require users to pay a fee and give the fire department a clear picture of how many beach fires could be occurring on a single night.
“That way you can’t have a beach fire in any old place. The fires would be in set locations at the bottom of road ends and they would need to be booked in advance. That way the fire department can know how many beach fires are expected to be on the beach on any given night and would have an easier time enforcing bylaws and inspecting the fires,” Wilson said. “I think there are some really simple, logical solutions, we just need to figure them out.
For now, Wilson said, banning the beach fires is just the beginning of council’s efforts to find a long-term solution that works for the community.
“Now that we have the ban in place, we need to clean up our beach and come back with a plan that is a good solution for everyone,” he said.
Swain and Savage both opposed the fire ban.
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