Beach fires in Lantzville could soon be snuffed out.
Lantzville councillors, during a council meeting last week, gave the first two readings to a proposed fire protection services bylaw, which, if approved, would ban fires on all beaches throughout the district.
The proposed bylaw would replace an existing bylaw that allows fires on beaches with some restrictions.
Fires along beaches in the district, particularly near Peterson Road, are not an uncommon sight during the warmer and often drier months and Lantzville is unique in that it is the only Vancouver Island community south of the Comox Valley that does not have an outright ban on beach fires, according to district staff.
However, according to a staff report, Lantzville Fire Rescue responded to 56 burning complaints on the beach in 2018, with the majority of them coming outside traditional “office hours.”
A number of alternatives to an outright ban such as installing fire pits, implementing beach fire permits or regulating the number of people who could have a beach fire were rejected by staff because they would require additional “administrative duties” or are difficult to enforce, according to the report.
In the case of fire pits, the report suggests that permanent pits would be difficult, if not impossible, to build because of “rock shelf” under the beach. As a result, moveable fire pits could be a possibility, but the report notes that there is the potential for them to be moved to other areas or be “discarded” into the sea.
Staff have suggested the district install signs at a cost of roughly $1,300 informing people about the rules around fires on Lantzville beaches.
During a meeting April 15, Coun. Karen Proctor said beach fires in Lantzville need to be banned because of the adverse impact they have on marine life and the environment.
“We really are having a profound impact on that tiny beach,” she said, adding that often times fires aren’t extinguished properly and there are nails and garbage around them.
Proctor said compromise solutions such as fire pits and monitoring the beaches won’t work due to costs. She said Lantzville’s beaches are under more pressure than they have been in the past.
“I am afraid that our beaches are really suffering from overuse,” she said.
Coun. Ian Savage said based on comments from residents who have spoken on the issue at previous council meetings, beach fires are part of Lantzville’s culture and have been so for “many” years.
“Some say we should have a ban on fires because a lot of other places do, but many in Lantzville are proud we are not like other places. My kids as teenagers loved beach fires, it kept them safe and they could walk home,” he said. “The alternative was for them to drive home like in Nanaimo, with the risk of drinking and driving.”
Savage said the beach “belongs to all of us” and council should actually work to find a solution that works for everyone instead of outright banning fires.
“An outright ban is the opposite of working together, it is not even attempting a balanced solution,” he said.
Coun. Jamie Wilson said despite previously expressing a desire to see beach fires allowed in Lantzville, he now believes they should be banned. He said after a recent walk down to the beach near Peterson Road, he discovered fires burning with no one around them and other fires started by teenagers from Nanaimo.
“They were all from Nanaimo,” Wilson said about the teens. “That wasn’t the case when I grew up.”
Wilson said Lantzville has become a hub for beach fires ever since Nanaimo implemented a fire ban on their beaches more than 20 years ago.
“We are a magnet for young individuals, who I don’t think respect our beach,” he said.
Coun. Will Geselbracht called the situation at Lantzville’s beaches a “crisis” and said that the beaches have become a destination for beach fires.
“We are a target and there are a lot more folks in Nanaimo than in Lantzville and they know there is only one beach to come to,” he said.
Geselbracht expressed concerns around having fire pits and pursuing alternative solutions because of increased costs and because the fire department has “enough to do” and shouldn’t need to patrol the beach. He also said the fires are often strewn with litter around them and are often burning well into the morning.
“All of us have been disgusted by a smouldering camp fire,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lantzville Mayor Mark Swain said while he recognizes there are legitimate concerns around beach fires, citing the issues around partying, broken glass, garbage and environmental harm, he believes councillors “need to do the tough work” and find a solution. He said more public education is needed around the rules of beach fires and that solutions should be explored and tested first before a ban is implemented.
“I don’t think we’ve done enough to simply ban it,” he said.
Swain and Savage were the only two members of council who voted against giving first and second reading of the proposed bylaw.
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