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RDCK gets earful from a few on new wildfire development zone rules

Feedback was mostly negative on a survey about proposed building changes
A survey asking residents about possible wildfire mitigation building regulations received poor feedback. File photo

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

A plan to create new rules governing building practices in forested areas is facing an uphill battle for acceptance from the public in the West Kootenay, a new report on the idea has found.

Nearly half the people (45 per cent) who responded this summer during a public input period on the planned Wildfire Development Permit Area said they strongly, or somewhat strongly, opposed implementing the DPAs. Just over a third of respondents (36 per cent) said they supported the concept.

Nineteen per cent said they had no opinion.

Consultations on the idea began last April, after the regional government received nearly $100,000 to hold public hearings and develop Wildfire DPAs for each area of the Regional District of Central Kootenay.

A Development Permit Area sets design guidelines and standards that can govern things like building material types, landscaping, and building placement for new construction. DPAs can be created to protect or promote environmental, heritage, commercial or other values – in this case, to try to mitigate the risk from wildfires.

The consultants, Urban Systems, had about 159 people fill out an online survey – but only two people participated in live online workshops. The company submitted its What We Heard report to the RDCK directors at their October board meeting.

Despite the opposition, the consultants found a solid majority of respondents (63 per cent) agreed that wildfires are a natural process and that the RDCK has to adapt to the growing threat of wildfires. A majority said they would support regulation for roofing materials (58 per cent) and landscaping (53 per cent), but support began to wane for regulating building materials (40 per cent) and setting the location of a building (30 per cent).

“Let people make some of their own decisions with the level of risk they are willing to take,” one respondent is quoted as saying, while another said, “I don’t think there should be regulations, only suggestions/guidelines.”

Over half (57 per cent) of respondents said they were likely or very likely to take measures to implement wildfire mitigation measures, while 21 per cent said they were not likely to do so.

Others said incentivizing people to use FireSmart principles might encourage compliance. Ninety-five per cent of respondents had heard of the fire mitigation program, and more than two-thirds of the people responding said they were already taking some FireSmart actions, like cleaning gutters and choosing non-flammable roofing materials. But attitudes toward further regulation were also pronounced.

“I believe the restrictions on a property owner are ONLY appropriate when there is a realistic concern that the property owner’s actions will negatively impact neighbouring properties,” one respondent is quoted as saying. “It is NOT government’s job to protect me from myself.”

Numbers questioned

However, directors of the Regional District of Central Kootenay questioned just how accurate the assessment of public opposition was to Wildfire DPAs.

Area A Director Garry Jackman pointed out that while there were 159 online comments submitted, there was no way to say how many people that actually represented.

“It’s difficult to know if the same person didn’t put in 18 comments,” he said. “Gauging from the language and the level of anger – I hold this as carry-over anger from COVID or anti-government feeling – I can’t judge the level of opposition, because the level of opposition from some appears to be repetitive.”

“I would not view this as a statistical survey. This is not an Angus-Reid poll,” agreed Urban System’s Jamie McEwan. “This is a litmus test, a general start to the discussion, and an opportunity for people to participate in an ongoing manner.

“So it’s a little bit of information to move ahead in the process to better advise future decision-making.”

That process is on pause for now, as the municipal election brings new directors to the table. Directors will meet in November to discuss the DPA further and plan next steps.

The project goal is to create unique wildfire DPAs for each electoral area. Some would carry more force than others, depending on how each area responds to the concept.

The project is supposed to be completed by spring 2023.