AQMD Ruling Gives City Options on Fire Rings

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The city has a few options to choose from following the recent South Coast Air Quality Management District ruling on an amendment to the rule regarding the fire rings.

“We are still analyzing (at a staff level) what the AQMD rule amendment means and intend to present a range of options to the council and community at a future date,” city manager Dave Kiff wrote in an email.

An official statement was sent out by the city a few hours after the air quality group voted 7-6 on Friday to adopt specific amendments to its Rule 444 regarding Open Burning. According to the statement, the amendments mean that Rule 444 “now limits some open burning from wood-fueled fire rings on beaches.”

“The decision does not mean that all or even most of Newport Beach’s fire rings will be removed,” the statement reads.

Kiff called the ruling a compromise. It’s not a region-wide ban or an order to completely, or even partially, remove Newport’s rings, he explained.

There now has to be a minimum of 100 feet between wood-fueled rings, meaning some of Newport’s pits will need to be spaced out (if they remain wood-fueled), likely causing some to be removed completely.

There will also be a search for alternative fuels. South Coast AQMD will sponsor a request for proposals process to “encourage the development of beach fire rings that use fuels other than wood.”

The alternative fuels include, but aren’t limited to, natural gas and propane.

The third choice is to “ask the city council to determine [if] the smoke from the wood-fueled rings creates a “public nuisance.” If so, the council would hold a noticed public hearing and could direct that some or all of the wood-fueled rings be removed,” the statement reads.

Under the Air Quality Management District’s rule, the city’s action would be exempted from review by the California Coastal Commission, should the council choose the third option, according to the city statement.

Mayor Keith Curry is expected to ask the city council to consider participating in a pilot program with the air quality agency for alternatively-fueled fire rings.

“What’s important today is that AQMD has given the city council tools to address the health issues related to wood smoke while finding ways to maintain a popular beach amenity,” councilman Rush Hill said in the statement.

The “compromise effort” will be led by the city council, Kiff added. The city will work with the community on the issue.

“I don’t know yet, but it could result in less wood-fueled rings, a mixture of fuel sources, some additional spacing between the wood-fueled rings, or even no wood-fueled rings. My guess is that a year from now Newport’s beaches will still have some fire rings. Some might be in different locations and some might have different fuel sources,“ he said. “The next chapter is not yet written.”

Newport Beach has until March 1, 2014, to comply with the ruling.

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