By Nick Bernard
Councillors held a line-by-line review of the much-discussed draft shoreline preservation bylaw in a special meeting of county council on Jan. 17. The bylaw, which has been in the works since 2017, was reviewed in a presentation by consultants from Hutchinson Environmental Services, and J.L. Richards & Associates in October.
While the five-hour meeting resulted in a large number of items for the consultants, it was agreed that another special meeting would be arranged to discuss the draft bylaw within the next three months.
“I think as we’ve gone through the document, we’ve clarified where there needs to be additions or clarifications, or a few more details added, and we look forward to those things being brought back to us for review,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. She emphasized throughout the meeting that the language of the bylaw must meet its intent.
At the outset of the meeting, Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen characterized her experience with the process, saying that educating the public will be important.
“Whether we pass this bylaw over the next few weeks, or months, or not, I think we’ve all heard loud and clear that we need to put some effort into education, as it’s clear that many taxpayers still don’t understand the full intent of the bylaw, its contents, what will require a permit or not, or that what is already in place is protected,” she said, expressing the spectrum of concerns that council has heard throughout the process. “This isn’t about little projects … it’s about extensive excavation, blasting, clear cutting, and massive earthworks and significant changes to the waterfront.”
Throughout the meeting, councillors made numerous suggestions, including a significant number of additions to the list of definitions.
“I am going to be picky on language around the draft, because I think there’s some language that is, the intent is sound, but the interpretation could cause problems,” said Moffatt.
The first major discussion took place around the area of application for the bylaw, including the much-discussed 30-metre buffer zone that is defined as a protected shoreline.
“What we’re suggesting, in summary, is that the by-law apply to the 30-metre shoreline preservation zone, as well as natural features within the county where the county may wish to exercise some level of oversight around how development occurs in and adjacent to those natural features,” explained Jason Ferrigan, consultant and senior planner at J.L Richards & Associates.
Brent Parsons, senior aquatic scientist with Hutchinson Environmental Services, said that the 30-metre zone was a standard established by the province.
“They provide that guidance through the National Heritage Reference Manual,” he said, referring to a report authored by Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry. Parsons also pointed out that the buffer zone is also recommended by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, and a variety of other policies including The Green Belt Plan and the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.
Dysart Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy further questioned how the thirty meter figure was settled upon.
“Everything I’ve read so far, it depends a lot on … the slope, on what the ground cover actually is,” he said. “Quebec uses 15 meters, based on different things with slope, vegetation. Nobody I’ve seen has used the blanketed 30-metres for 600 lakes that covers everything from Elephant Lake to the east side part of our county, with an average depth of seven feet … almost half a kilometre of a road running right alongside a shoreline, to Kawagama Lake, which is hemlock, pine, and Canadian Shield. I’m trying to really get my head wrapped around why we’re using the one-size-fits-all application here.”
Danielsen acknowledged that Kennedy’s concern was one heard by all councillors.
“My issue with that is how manageable [it is] trying to look at 600 different lakes and the different characteristics of them,” she said. “When and if we land on a document that we can all agree on, it’s going to be, I think, challenging to manage for some time … to try and break things out and deal with different lakes and different circumstances and different soil types, and different rules for each one, to me, is just beyond our ability, especially to start with, to manage.”
Dysart Mayor Andrea Roberts acknowledged that Kennedy was making some key points, but pointed to the existing shoreline tree preservation bylaw, which also defines its shorelines as 30-metre distances.
“I’m still a proponent of the 30-metre setbacks,” she said, listing off a number of existing instances of the 30-metre distance. “Our official plans all talk about 30-metre setbacks, all new lots created are 30 metres, septics have to be back.”
The topic of ponds was also discussed. According to Ferrigan, ponds were a recent inclusion within the scope of natural features protected by the bylaw, and with an exact definition to be included in future versions of the bylaw.
“I think from our past discussions with council, we had included ponds based on feedback around unintended consequences of the bylaw … the nature of the conversation at the time was that if the shoreline preservation provisions apply to a lake, river, and stream, that may have the unintended consequence of providing an incentive to develop on ponds,” he said. “So, in this particular case, my initial reaction … is that it applies to natural ponds and not man-made ponds. However, that’s subject to discussion and direction from county council.”
Minden’s Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell responded to that by offering the example of people without ponds on their properties, who suddenly find themselves with ponds created by features like beaver dams.
Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall offered another example of a resident who built an artesian well, and created a pond to collect the overflow, going so far as to add natural features like lilypads.
“Those are the kind of greys that have come up in discussions that I’ve had, because I have two people that actually have that situation,” Ryall said.
Permitting was also a topic that weaved throughout the meeting. As it stands, council is faced with a decision whether to implement a permit system, or continuing its existing practice of not requiring permits for work within the 30-metre zone.
Roberts voiced her thoughts on the matter by expressing what she felt was a shift in the way the bylaw was discussed.
“Where this, to me, has gone a little off the rails, is that it’s switched [from] a shoreline preservation bylaw to a site alteration bylaw, which is requiring a permit for absolutely anything within that area,” she said. “That’s where I’m hearing complaints, that’s where I think we’re going to get bogged down.”
Moffatt characterized the existing voluntary system as an honour system that relies on submitted complaints to weed out bad actors who intend on contravening the bylaw.
Another question Moffatt raised was the use of pesticides and fertilizers, as some properties have lawns that impede the 30-metre rule.
“We can’t stand here and stamp our feet about lawns to the lake being … one of the biggest contributors to poor lake health, and then not committing to do something about them,” she said. “There are two sides to this argument. On one side of this debate are a whole bunch of people who are asking us to do something about pesticides, fertilizers, and lawns. So, I’m not saying cement shoes for lawns, but that needs to be part of the education program … I think we just need to do something about it.”
On the topic of contraventions, Minden Mayor Brent Devolin said he hopes those who do contravene the bylaw face stiff fines.
“I’m on the record as wanting as big a fine for contravention of the existing bylaw that we have, and I wouldn’t have spent the last two years of my time if I wasn’t looking for steel-toed boots to deal with these issues,” he said.
The full 897-page report on the existing draft bylaw is available to view on the County of Haliburton’s website.
The full discussion from the Jan. 17 meeting is available to view on the county’s YouTube channel.