Tofino's municipal council is balking at the idea of messing with the town's air quality by allowing a large scale burn to take place within its borders.

Tofino weighs large scale burn versus 2,000 trucks on highway

“Once people realize that there are giant piles of burning logs, they might have some questions,” Coun. Greg Blanchette said.

A rezoning application that would see 420 housing units developed in Tofino is on hold while council decides whether to allow the applicant to put the property up in smoke.

Roughly 2,000 truck loads of wood debris needs to be removed from 350 Fourth Street before the land  can be developed and its owner is hoping to burn it rather than truck it out.

In a report submitted to council on Aug. 23, district CAO Bob MacPherson suggested the district’s bylaws are hazy on burn permits.

“The District’s burning bylaw prohibits large-scale burning unless authorized by Council but does not give parameters to when and how burning could be considered,” he wrote.

He wrote that staff supported the burn request but added provincial guidelines would have to be followed like using an air curtain incinerator and restricting flames to days where wind is blowing away from heavily populated areas.

Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers wrote in the report that the only alternative to burning the debris would be trucking it out and the applicant believes that would be too expensive.

“The applicant has not provided any information with respect to the cost of chipping the material on site, however it is recognized that there would likely be significant trucking costs to remove the chipped material from the site,” he wrote.

He suggested it would take roughly 2,000 trucks to remove the debris and the “ball park costs” would be around $300,000.

After reviewing staff’s report, council was reluctant to allow the large-scale burn.

Coun. Duncan McMaster did not believe the alternatives to burning would be too costly.

“I think that’s crap to put it bluntly,” he said adding the property value was far greater than the cost of trucking the debris and that the report failed to acknowledge locals who may be asthmatic or have allergies to smoke.

Coun. Dorothy Baert agreed.

“I think we have to go back to the drawing board,” she said.

“I’m still not satisfied that they’ve investigated the alternatives satisfactorily…It’s a huge piece of land and a lot of development on that land would mean multiple millions of dollars.”

Coun. Greg Blanchette supported the burn.

“I’m not happy about this either, but there is a whole bunch of stuff there; wood that has to be gotten rid of,” he said. “I hate the idea of throwing that much carbon into the air by burning, but the alternative is, if you chip it and put it in a landfill, then it turns into carbon anyway…Plus, you’ve got a load of trucks taking it to a landfill.”

He added there was no environmentally-friendly option.

“Let’s keep in mind the health and tourism and other impacts of 2,000 trucks arriving here empty and leaving with a full load of shrub timber,” he said adding that amount of trucks would “look terrible on the highway.”

Mayor Josie Osborne was unconvinced.

“I will respectfully disagree,” she told Blanchette. “There’s a number of trucks coming in and out all the time.”

Coun. Al Anderson asked if the district would be getting any amenities from the developer for allowing the burn.

“If we are going to reduce the development’s cost by the amount of this burn, I think, there should be some sort of quid pro quo,” Anderson said suggesting the developer be asked to purchase carbon credits or commit funds to Tofino’s affordable housing coffers.

Blanchette liked Anderson’s idea of carbon credits.

“I think any kind of large burn like this goes against what I see as community values. That would be some way towards salvaging those community values and would not be overly onerous on the proponent’s part,” he said.

MacPherson said staff would look into possible amenities.

Baert said, regardless of amenities, the developer needed to make a stronger case for why burning was the only option

Blanchette said the district would need to engage in loud public outreach if they allowed the burn to take place.

“Once people realize that there are giant piles of burning logs, they might have some questions,” he said. “Aside from that, we should make it very clear that this is not a precedent for future developers.  This is a one-time only special case.”

McMaster doubted a precedent could be avoided.

“You set a precedent once you do it once,” he said.

Council directed its staff to work with the developer to mitigate environmental, community and health impacts for the proposed burn.