Cornwall burning bylaw narrowly passes

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – Cornwall Coun. Todd Bennett admitted that it “isn’t perfect but, what it is, is a compromise.”

Bennett was talking Monday night about a new bylaw to control back yard fires within the City of Cornwall. It narrowly passed in a final vote of 5-4. Couns. Glen Grant, Maurice Dupelle, Claude McIntosh and Elaine MacDonald voted against it. Coun. Dean Hollingsworth was away.

The law will limit the hours, size of the fire and the size of property that people would be allowed to have that open fire. The buffer area is up to 7.5 meters away from any building or property line, larger than the previous buffer of 5 meters.

That would limit it to only 27 per cent of the households within the city limits or 4,096 properties and people will have to have a permit to burn.

Acting Fire Chief Jeff Weber explained that having a bylaw on the books would allow the fire department to act and enforce because the default provincial legislation currently in place doesn’t have a easy provision for fines. With the bylaw, Weber said people who break the law could face the cost of having a fire truck come to their home, based on the MTO rates used for the fire department to respond to a car accident or a fire.

Coun. Eric Bergeron says he supports open air burning in the city and felt the problem is an enforcement issue.

Bennett’s compromise failed to get support from a minority of fellow councillors.

Coun. Glen Grant called the bylaw “discriminatory based on the size of your property” and that homeowners he’s talked to have been able to enjoy their back yards for the first time in years. Coun. Claude McIntosh echoed Grant’s comments about constituents saying this was the first summer some could enjoy their back yard. “I just can’t support this. I know people with respiratory problems,” he said.

Coun. Elaine MacDonald didn’t agree with Bennett’s assessment of the bylaw as a compromise saying it’s a “basic right to breathe” versus the “fringe right to burn.”

A vocal opponent in the early days of the open air burning issue, Coun. Syd Gardiner says “I’ve changed my mind, I’m going to support this bylaw” because, without it, the fire department can’t enforce it with fines.

Acting Chief Weber says they can educate an offender and put a nuisance fire out but it’s difficult to fine under the provincial legislation.

“This is very difficult,” Mayor Bernadette Clement said, pausing to find the words to explain her position to support the burning bylaw. “No, it’s not going to be happiness in passing this bylaw…we’re not here to be popular,” noting that there will be public criticism whatever the decision.

The mayor said it is “not tenable” to not have a bylaw in place.

Here’s how they voted:

Yes – Syd Gardiner, Carilyne Hebert, Todd Bennett, Eric Bergeron, Bernadette Clement

No – Claude McIntosh, Maurice Dupelle, Elaine MacDonald, Glen Grant

Absent – Dean Hollingsworth