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County bans peat burning

Burning peat moss in Westlock County is no longer allowed. That was the declaration made by county councillors following an in camera session at their June 26 meeting.

Burning peat moss in Westlock County is no longer allowed.

That was the declaration made by county councillors following an in camera session at their June 26 meeting.

The ban is limited strictly to peat, county reeve Charles Navratil said, meaning landowners can still burn trees and shrubbery.

“You can still burn brush piles and you can still clear that peat land if you want to farm it,” he said.

“What we’re saying is if you want to clear it, deep plow it or do something to skim it off.”

What the ban comes down to is making the county safer and a healthier place for all residents, he added, as it’s the smoke produced by the smouldering peat that causes problems.

Navratil also explained that because peat can hold a lot of moisture, once it’s ignited it can take weeks or months to burn out. On the flip side, if it’s bone dry, it burns extremely fast and can destroy a field quickly.

County fire chief John Biro went into further detail about the problems dealing with smouldering peat piles.

“It takes basically months to burn and if needed could take weeks to extinguish in the event of an emergency,” he said.

While the actual burning is a concern, Biro said it’s the smoke that poses the greatest risk.

“What’s happening is, for the years I’ve been in the fire department, I’ve responded to at least five or six calls regarding smoke crossing roadways and collisions happening,” he said, adding some of those resulting collisions have ended up being fatalities.

In some cases, when the smoke mixes with fog, the visibility on the ground has been virtually zero, he added.

“The county’s being proactive and we’re trying to eliminate this hazard on our roadways,” Biro said. “If we continue to burn this stuff we’re setting ourselves up for somebody to die, which could have been prevented.”

The smoke doesn’t only make driving dangerous, he added. Over the years, he’s received complaints from residents about smoke seeping into their houses and the occupants develop breathing problems.

He said it’s the area around Linaria and the Dapp power plant where most of the peat burning takes place, and where most of the complaints originate, but it’s an issue all over the county and in neighbouring municipalities.

Biro understands the peat-burning ban is not going to be appreciated by everyone, but it’s something that needs to be done.

“The farmers say, ‘well, this is how we cleared the land years ago. But things change.”

Navratil said county administration is currently working on developing a bylaw to formally put the ban in place.