Maple Ridge council approves creation of wildfire protection zone

Mayor Ernie Daykin casts deciding vote, staff to write a bylaw create permit areas.

Maple Ridge has taken the next step to creating a wildfire protection zone, but only after a narrow 4-3 vote last week.

Council OK’d telling staff to write a bylaw that would create permit areas requiring new homes built adjacent to forested areas to use fire-resistent walls and roofs and fire-smart landscaping. Ten-metre buffer areas also would be required to separate new suburbs from forests.

Couns. Mike Morden, Corisa Bell and Al Hogarth, however, voted against the bylaw because they are worried about costs.

The permit areas are the final step after the approval of the Wildfire Protection Plan in 2007.

Bell feels the provincial government is downloading responsibility for reducing fuel loads in forests, by clearing underbrush, on to the municipality.

Hogarth wanted to know the exact costs of the bylaw.

“What is the long-term cost going to be here?”

What are the costs to builders, developers and planners, he asked.

“Until I feel comfortable with the question … I don’t want to see it move forward.”

Morden questioned how vulnerable the rainforests are on the West Coast compared to the dry Interior.

Mark Brown of Cambrian Consulting, which did the review, said the provincial government wasn’t downloading, but trying to help cities reduce the fire hazard in nearby forests. Funding is available for 90 per cent of such projects, but Morden pointed out he was told by the Union of B.C. Municipalities that the current round of funding has run out.

Couns. Cheryl Ashlie, Bob Masse and Judy Dueck supported creating the wildfire area that would cover most of the forested area of Maple Ridge, as well as Silver Valley, Webster’s Corners and Whonnock.

An open house will take place for the latter two areas, which are intended to be added to the permit area.

Ashlie cited concerns raised by Thornhill residents about loss of development potential if the strategy is adopted.

But staff have said previously the new guidelines won’t affect the number of lots a developer can build.

Ashlie said some residents are using the risk of fire as a reason to bring Metro Vancouver water to the area, but that services will be extended to Thornhill on the original schedule.

Maple Ridge’s official community plan only calls for suburban expansion to Thornhill, east of 248th Street, after Maple Ridge’s population hits 100,000.

Mayor Ernie Daykin cast the deciding vote in favour of the wildfire protection area.

“We cannot afford to do nothing. I’m comfortable to take it to the next step,” he said, adding there will be lots of opportunity for public input.

Former fire chief Peter Grootendorst warned council earlier this year that not having a protection zone in place could make the district liable if a wildfire wiped out homes.