The city’s idling bylaw allows most vehicles to run their engines at a standstill for no more than minutes. Stock photo

The city’s idling bylaw allows most vehicles to run their engines at a standstill for no more than minutes. Stock photo

Grand Forks city council upholds idling bylaw after lengthy discussion

A resident had demanded that the bylaw be amended

Grand Forks city council made no changes to its engine idling bylaw, which came under close scrutiny at chambers Monday, March 7.

Spurred by a strongly-worded letter by resident Jack Koochin and a request for ‘no idling’ signs by resident Muriel Neale, council deliberated the bylaw for around half an hour between its committee of the whole (COTW) and regular meetings.

READ MORE: Grand Forks, Castlegar had highest soot levels in B.C. in 2020

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Bylaw enforcement officer David Bruce spoke to the issue at length, repeatedly calling for more public outreach to discourage engine idling, while firmly stating that his office had no authority to enforce the bylaw during February’s cold spell.

David Bruce, bylaw officer and building inspector at the City of Grand Forks, speaks to council at chambers about the city’s idling bylaw on Monday, March 7. Photo: Screenshot: grandforks.ca

David Bruce, bylaw officer and building inspector at the City of Grand Forks, speaks to council at chambers about the city’s idling bylaw on Monday, March 7. Photo: Screenshot: grandforks.ca

The idling bylaw (no. 1836) was passed by a 2007 council resolution limiting engine idling to no more than three minutes while allowing a raft of exemptions for emergency vehicles, parades and vehicles storing perishable goods, among others. The bylaw does not apply to “vehicles idling if the outside temperature is below freezing or above 30 degrees Celsius,” according to section 4(i).

Temperatures in February consistently hovered around zero degrees C, Bruce said.

But Koochin demanded in a Feb. 8 letter published in council’s agenda that the bylaw be amended to “remove the 0 degrees provision, and include the 30 degrees provision only for vehicles with commercial freezers.”

The reason he gave is that his neighbour “has a loud Ram diesel pickup truck that he warms up” for up to 40 minutes at a stretch, which he said was “ridiculous, and totally unnecessary” and which he said “pollutes the heck out of our neighbourhood.”

Neale in a separate letter said she was concerned about engine idling near city schools, in restaurant drive through’s and grocery store parking lots. ‘No idling’ signs would likely do the trick, she wrote, because, “Education seems to be the best bet.”

Grand Forks has ranked atop the worst air quality lists for B.C. municipalities for going on three years. Engine exhaust is considered to be a factor, but recent high-soot levels have come overwhelmingly from area wildfires, like the one that put smoke over the city in September 2020 (above). Photo: Laurie Tritschler

Grand Forks has ranked atop the worst air quality lists for B.C. municipalities for going on three years. Engine exhaust is considered to be a factor, but recent high-soot levels have come overwhelmingly from area wildfires, like the one that put smoke over the city in September 2020 (above). Photo: Laurie Tritschler

Addressing recent idling complaints received by the city, Coun. Chris Moslin asked at the COTW if staff had taken action.

“When the temperature is below freezing, there’s not a lot of action, quite frankly, that can be taken,” Bruce answered.

Emphasizing the bylaw’s very clear exemption for engine idling at cold temperatures, Bruce said, “We’re certainly not about to give a ticket for that,” to which he added that if they were to issue such a fine, “I dare say, it would be disputed.”

Brought before council at its regular meeting, Bruce said past education campaigns by the city and local primary schools had worked well to discourage people from feeding deer within city limits, which is also a bylaw offence.

“Personally, I think we can do a much better job with the idling bylaw in terms of educating individuals,” Bruce told council.

City bylaw enforcement is “complaint-driven,” Chief Administrative Officer Duncan Redfearn explained, to which Bruce said he was well acquainted with Koochin.

“In years past, Mr. Koochin has had similar concerns with different neighbours. And I certainly have spoken with those different neighbours at times.”

Bruce said he sympathized with Koochin, “no question,” but went on to say that, to the best of his knowledge, Koochin has never tried to arrive at any kind of resolution with his neighbours.

Seizing on the public education aspect, Moslin said he’d been on council when it passed the idling bylaw. Council had then partnered with the Boundary Air Quality Committee, which brought in a young graduate student to be an “idling ambassador” tasked with giving talks at schools about the harmful effects of engine exhaust.

Paraphrasing a constituent’s concerns about idling, Moslin poked fun at recent “Freedom Convoy” protests across the country.

“It all starts with men in trucks,” he said, drawing laughter from the room.

“At first, it sounds funny. But look at all the trouble Canada’s just gone through. Somehow, we have the feeling that we deserve the right to run our trucks indefinitely. It’s self-indulgent. It is wasteful,” Moslin explained.

When it came time to consider Koochin’s proposed amendment, Redfearn told council that, “We contacted this individual directly and said, ‘Hey, if you let us know when this is happening, we will come down. We will take a look. If there’s a contravention of the bylaw, we will educate, engineer and enforce. And the response we got was, ‘No. You should just patrol this.’”

But Redfearn cautioned that enforcing bylaws proactively would likely require more resources from council.

Moslin said he wouldn’t support a bylaw amendment, adding that he favoured public education.

“We’re dealing with human behaviour here. We’re trying to convince people that for the sake of the environment, they should turn off their cars.”

Wrapping up the discussion, Mayor Brian Taylor said, “I am quite satisfied with our response thus far to Mr. Koochin, but I’m not seeing a motion coming out of this.”

When no motion came to the floor, council unanimously voted to receive Koochin’s letter, passing a second resolution to write Koochin back.

Bylaw 1836 carries a minimum penalty of $250, with a maximum fine of not more than $10,000. In practice, Bruce told council that his office overwhelmingly prefers to talk things through with alleged rule-breakers.


 

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City CouncilCity HallGrand ForksPollution and Air Quality