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Daily Pilot

Newport submits charcoal-only fire pit plan to Coastal Commission

By Amy Senk

5:15 PM PDT, July 29, 2014

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Newport Beach has submitted an application for a coastal development permit to establish a pilot program for charcoal-only beach fire rings.

The city's 60 beach fire rings have been charcoal-only since March in an effort to comply with new rules from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. In June, City Manager Dave Kiff confirmed that the city planned to conduct a 26-month pilot program.

But the California Coastal Commission determined that the move to coal required a coastal development permit.

The city's 50-page application was submitted July 17, and signs announcing the pending application have been posted.

According to the application, the city has staff "dedicated to overseeing the use of the fire ring areas near the Balboa Pier and on the Corona del Mar State Beach."

"These staff members serve not only to ensure the charcoal-only rule is complied with, but also as reconnaissance in the field," the application said.

Since beginning the charcoal-only program, the application states, the same general number of people are using the rings as before and for about the same length of time.

"By appearance, fire-ring users seem to be having a comparable experience (fun, food, warmth and socializing), and the amount of users cooking on the fire rings has increased," the application states. "Beachgoers tend to report that 'charcoal only' has not been a deterrent to having an enjoyable time."

Fewer than 5% of visitors to Newport choose to go to Huntington Beach to burn wood, and while noncompliance exists when staff is not present, the city believes "that smoke levels are significantly decreased," the application states.

The pilot program would not involve moving or removing rings, but it would continue education and outreach and increased staffing to monitor ring usage, the application states. The application also includes a photo of six women smiling in front of a blazing fire that appears to be fueled by a mound of charcoal.

The Coastal Commission has not yet posted online its August meeting agenda, and it is unclear when the Newport Beach charcoal application will be scheduled.

Some residents who live near the fire rings have praised the charcoal-only rules and believe that smoke pollution has been reduced since the rules have been in place.

But many beach visitors have expressed the opposite opinion, said Doug Swardstrom, a leader of the Friends of the Fire Rings group, which is working to bring back wood bonfires at the beach.

"Everybody wants the wood," he said during a meeting of the City Council on July 22.

Senk is the editor of Corona del Mar Today. Read more at coronadelmartoday.com.