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State agency approves fire pit plan for parts of Newport Beach

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NEWPORT BEACH, California — The California Coastal Commission on Thursday approved fire pits at a Southern California beach after three years of heated debate.

The commission voted to approve a mixture of 40 wood- or charcoal-burning rings in two areas of Newport Beach, the Orange County Register reported (http://bit.ly/1KIzZgx ).

"It's terrific," Mayor Ed Selich said. "This is a big weight off our shoulders. This was pitting residents and other groups against each other for years."

However, a long-term city plan for another 24 pits at the nearby Corona del Mar State Beach wasn't approved after state parks officials argued the Coastal Commission lacked authority to issue permits for a state-owned beach.

However, "I'm confident they'll be able to work out the issues," said Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff.

Three years ago, some residents sought to ban the concrete rings, saying the smoke drifted over their homes and could be a pollution and health hazard.

Supporters said the rings are a beach tradition and tourist attraction.

They are as popular as "baseball and apple pie," said Doug Swardstrom, the founder of Friends of the Fire Rings.

"They represent a place of peace," Swardstrom said. "A place to reflect, and be with friends and family."

The controversy eventually involved the city, the Coastal Commission, state lawmakers and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Various proposals were bandied about, including permitting only charcoal-burning rings or even removing the 60 rings altogether.

The latest plan calls for a possible 64 rings, but some current pits would be relocated and new pits would be placed away from most residents.

PHOTO: This photo taken March 23, 2013,  shows a group of friends gathered around the fire pit at Corona del Mar State Beach in Calif. A state agency has approved a plan for fire rings in some of Newport Beach after years of heated debate over the summertime tradition. The Orange County Register reports that the California Coastal Commission voted Thursday to approve plans for a mix of wood- and charcoal-burning rings on two of the city's beaches. (Kyusung Gong/The Orange County Register via AP)
This photo taken March 23, 2013, shows a group of friends gathered around the fire pit at Corona del Mar State Beach in Calif. A state agency has approved a plan for fire rings in some of Newport Beach after years of heated debate over the summertime tradition. The Orange County Register reports that the California Coastal Commission voted Thursday to approve plans for a mix of wood- and charcoal-burning rings on two of the city's beaches. (Kyusung Gong/The Orange County Register via AP)

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PHOTO: This photo tajen Feb. 24, 2013, shows a group of students putting wood on their fire pit at Big Corona State Beach in Corona del Mar, Calif. A state agency has approved a plan for fire rings in some of Newport Beach after years of heated debate over the summertime tradition. The Orange County Register reports that the California Coastal Commission voted Thursday to approve plans for a mix of wood- and charcoal-burning rings on two of the city's beaches. (Eugene Garcia/The Orange County Register via AP)
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