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Newport Beach could get natural gas fire rings on two beaches

Newport Beach's City Council will consider testing natural gas fire rings in place of wood-fueled rings near the Balboa Pier and at Corona del Mar.

November 23, 2013|By Emily Foxhall
  • Zenya Shir of Irvine jumps over a fire pit at Corona Del Mar State Beach in March. Such wood-fueled fire rings may be replaced by natural gas rings if Newport Beach approves a pilot program with the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Zenya Shir of Irvine jumps over a fire pit at Corona Del Mar State Beach in… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Newport Beach residents may soon be one step closer to roasting marshmallows beachside over natural gas-burning fire rings.

On Tuesday, the city staff plans to recommend that the City Council approve participation in a pilot project with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to install natural gas fire rings in certain beach areas, while also removing some of the existing wood-fueled fire rings.

Currently, 33 fire rings are arranged in the sand near the Balboa Pier and 27 at Corona del Mar State Beach. Under the staff recommendation, the number of fire rings would be reduced to 15 and 12, respectively, rather than be eliminated completely as the council had previously voted.

The remaining wood-fueled rings would be at least 50 feet apart, as required by new AQMD regulations adopted in July.

The proposed plan includes installing two large, surfboard-shaped natural gas bonfire rings and three natural gas-fueled single rings in each beach area. "I think ... these are going to be really popular," City Manager Dave Kiff said of the natural gas option.

Before the gas rings can be installed, the AQMD board must give final approval for contractors to build sample propane and natural gas fire rings as part of a pilot program.

The AQMD board is set to vote on the proposals at its Dec. 6 meeting.

If AQMD decides to grant funding for the prototypes, the staff recommends installing the new gas rings in two phases, with an initial test period at the Balboa Pier before expanding to Corona del Mar. Rather than be positioned among the wood-burning rings in the sand, which would require pipelines to run under the beach, the new gas rings would be placed at the edge of the beach, near hard landscaping such as a parking lot.

During the trial period, the city will want to evaluate how safe the gas rings are to operate and how easy they are to maintain, Kiff said. "This is uncharted territory," he said.

The city staff has not recommended use of the propane models.

The proposed changes come amid ongoing health concerns associated with wood-burning fire pits, evidence of which "continues to be compelling," said Mayor Keith Curry, citing a World Health Organization classification of particulate matter in outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic for humans. The city's plan would cut the volume of wood smoke by at least 50%, according to a city news release.

The plan also ensures compliance with AQMD fire-ring regulations, including a 700-foot buffer zone between beach bonfires and homes, that go into effect in March.

Additional enforcement of proper fire-ring use may be needed, at an estimated $100,000 to $200,000 per year, according to the city's report. An outside group could be brought in to help patrol the area, Kiff said.

The California Coastal Commission must also give its approval before the new rings can be installed.

After that? Bring on the marshmallows.

"They're the one thing you can burn out there that's not toxic," Curry said with a laugh.

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