Haliburton County council feels there has been lots of misinformation spread about the municipality’s proposed shoreline preservation bylaw.

County to hire consultant to garner feedback and draft shoreline bylaw

By Mike Baker

The County of Haliburton will put out a request for proposals “to retain consulting services to lead the development of a draft shoreline preservation bylaw, including a review of the related science, an environmental scan, and public consultation.”

That was the motion passed by county council during a special meeting dedicated to the draft shoreline bylaw on Jan. 27. The bylaw, which aims to protect lake health by maintaining natural shorelines, would restrict site alteration and the removal of vegetation within 30 metres of the high-water mark around water bodies. It has proven controversial in the community, particularly among some waterfront property owners, and some members of the local construction and landscaping industries. Councillors have received a deluge of emails regarding the draft bylaw in the past weeks, many of those emails copied by their senders to the newspaper.

An in-person public consultation process that had been planned for last summer was unable to proceed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with council conversations around the draft bylaw resuming in September.

The county had set up a digital public engagement framework that has been active on its website, for which a communications firm was retained to create materials, and which has garnered numerous responses.

Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt has repeatedly said she doesn’t believe the communications process the county has had in place was comprehensive enough, and that there was widespread misunderstanding of some of the contents of the draft bylaw. Moffatt repeated those sentiments during the Jan. 27 meeting.

“We need to recalibrate this process,” she said. “We’re not giving the public what they’re telling us it is they need.”

Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts and Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy have said they’d like to see the creation of a committee to guide the development of the bylaw, and Kennedy tabled a motion, seconded by Roberts, to postpone any further discussion regarding the draft bylaw until such a committee was struck.

“There are things in here that are very ambiguous …” Kennedy said of the contents of the draft bylaw. “I’m throwing my hands up, I need some help on this. I’m not a planner, I’m not a fish biologist, I’m not a lawyer. I’m trying to make the best decisions and recommendations I can. I don’t feel I have the tools.”

Roberts said she’s been approached by a number of people with relevant professional backgrounds expressing interest in sitting on some kind of committee to guide the creation of the bylaw.

As she had earlier in the month, Moffatt reiterated her opposition to that concept.

“I appreciate that we absolutely need to clarify this process,” she said. “I absolutely do not support a committee of the public because I believe that we are so far down the vitriolic blame game that it would be impossible to adequately or usefully represent all interested parties without making it even worse, and in comparison, I think that a recalibration of a more robust and inclusive consultation process would do just as much.”

“Unless we went to RFP, I said that last time, too,” Moffatt continued “If we’re going to bring in outside persons to take this over, I would only support it being an RFP.”

That is ultimately the direction council took, with Kennedy rescinding his motion, and councillors voting to issue an RFP for a consultant. The change in process means that a virtual public meeting that had been scheduled for late February will be postponed.