Sturgeon councillors took their first steps towards upgrading the county’s fire bylaws with steep fines for people burning without permits or during a fire ban.
County councillors passed first and second reading on a new bylaw that would allow bylaw officers to fine people as much as $2,000 for burning during a fire ban or without a permit.
Currently the county’s bylaws allow the county to bill people for the costs of fighting a fire, especially if the planned burn gets out of control, but that has proven difficult and the county was looking for an easier way to deal with people who don’t follow the rules.
The new bylaw provides for fines starting at $500 for the first offence for burning without a permit, burning while a fire ban is under way or being the owner of a property where a fire is burned without a valid permit.
Those fines rise to $1,000 on a second offence and $2,000 on any subsequent offences.
Acting county Fire Chief Pat Mahoney said the new bylaw would be easier to enforce and bring home the message more quickly, especially to people who repeatedly break the rules.
“It will give us the opportunity to deal with the situation in a timely manner,” he told council.
Coun. Tom Flynn said he saw a neighbour burning during a fire ban this spring and, under the old bylaw, his only option would have been to call 911, forcing fire crews to respond and bill the culprit.
The bylaw won’t go into effect until after the Aug. 26 council meeting at the earliest. While everyone at the table agreed the bylaw was well written and important, Mayor Don Rigney, Coun. Ken McGillis and Flynn all said the public needed to be informed of the proposed changes before council gave final reading to the bylaw.
“I can't support this until we take the step to make sure that this is made public so the public is not surprised or ambushed,” said Rigney.
Coun. Karen Shaw urged the other councillors to move faster on the issue. She argued unpermitted burning and burning during a fire ban had always been against the rules, it was only the penalties that would change.
“We are not changing the burning permit rules, we are just saying that if you are not following the rules and not in compliance, there is going to be consequences.”
Drivers in the Villeneuve area should get used to some traffic delays on Highway 633.
Work on the bridge, just east of Villeneuve that carries the highway across the Sturgeon River, will be reduced to one lane starting on July 15.
The $348,000 project will replace the deck and joints in the bridge and is scheduled to be complete by Oct. 15 if the weather co-operates.