Cornwall burn permits refunded; council could bring issue back

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – With no one allowed to burn in the City of Cornwall, the fire department has started processing refunds for the unused portion of valid burning permits.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, Fire Chief Pierre Voisine says, because council turned down his proposed bylaw in February, the law reverted to the Ontario Fire Code which doesn’t permit any open burning.

“Because of that, we felt that we had no choice but to refund the people that have valid permits left. In light of the fact that we had permits that were out there and the council decided they would put a ban in place, there was no way for us to allow people to continue burning,” Voisine said.

In February, Mayor Bernadette Clement said the discussion was not over as far as regulating fires. Voisine was asked whether refunding the permits closes the book on the entire situation.

“Well, no. Council can bring this back and if they bring it back, we will have to reissue permits. But the reality is, I think combined with this COVID-19 issue, they weren’t able to bring it back in time for the beginning of the burn season,” Voisine said.

The chief says they are “caught in a situation” where people can’t burn and permit holders are calling for either their money back or an explanation.

There had been 260 valid permits when Voisine first drafted his report to council last year and the chief says “a lot of those permits have expired. There’s a lot less than that.” An exact number was not immediately available.

In a situation where the city is already losing revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, Voisine explained this loss is not a lot – total annual revenue is usually $10,000 or $11,000. “I don’t expect it will be very much.” A permit is $100 for three years.

Voisine says permit holders have told him they want to recoup some of their money to invest in a TSSA-approved propane outdoor appliance, like a tabletop fire, which is allowed under the Ontario Fire Code.

“I think it’s the right thing to do for now.”

As for burning complaints in the city, Voisine says they are still getting some complaint calls but they are mostly about people who have permits and don’t understand “this whole convoluted issue.”

All the refunds should be done by July.

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