The West Kelowna Residents’ Association is concerned that District of West Kelowna senior staff exercise undue discretion in the enforcement of bylaws concerning safety, health and cost recovery on behalf of West Kelowna residents.
On Tuesday, WKRA board member Larry Mintz spoke to DWK council about the association’s concerns.
“In two successive years—2010 and 2011—a property owner in West Kelowna obtained a burning permit from the West Kelowna fire department in accordance with Bylaw No. 0114,” said Mintz.
“In each of those years, the fire department was required to respond to contain the authorized fire and to protect surrounding property.”
Mintz explained that Bylaw No. 0114 includes instructions regarding burning permits and states that a person who starts a fire without a valid permit or who fails to manage a fire for which a permit has been issued, shall be responsible for the cost of providing the personnel and equipment used to extinguish the fire.
But, Mintz claimed, that wasn’t the case for the West Kelowna property owner. He said the fire chief informed the WKRA that he “had chosen to forego pursuit of recovery action.”
“When reminded that the bylaw was explicit in this regard, the chief maintained that it was his decision to make,” said Mintz.
Mintz said that the fire chief’s response conflicted with the wording of the bylaw.
Coun. Bryden Winsby was curious how the matter came to the attention of the WKRA.
“The president of the association’s property was directly affected by both instances. Naturally this caused him to be interested in what the process should be,” said Mintz.
“He obtained a copy of the bylaw, he read the wording, he shared it with other members of the board without giving us any particular reference as to why he was asking us our opinion of what the wording of the particular clause meant. That wording, to me, was pretty clear.”
According to DWK chief administrative officer Jason Johnson, the WKRA complaint is the first one that has come forward as a result of the burning bylaw, which was adopted in February, 2011.
Fire chief Wayne Schnitzler of West Kelowna Fire Rescue said that this is the first time he has received feedback on how a burning complaint was handled.
“We issue 295 permits annually and we go out to about 82 various burning complaints. Out of all of those burning complaints, I’ve never had any feedback on how it was handled prior to this incident,” said Schnitzler.
Schnitzler indicated that the West Kelowna Fire Rescue tries to educate those who attempt controlled burns instead of punish them.
“When you look at previous incidents, the person was not burning with an intent to burn his neighbourhood down, he was burning with an intent to do fuel reduction.”
Schnitzler said if the fire department was too strict, it might deter residents from taking part in fuel reduction.
Coun. Carol Zanon said that educating the public is always good; however, this is a bylaw, not a policy and it should be enforced.
According to Johnson, a number of bylaws, including this one, will come back to council for review at a future meeting.