By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County council will undertake a wider more in-depth public consultation process on a draft enhanced shoreline preservation bylaw that may include the creation of a sub-committee councillors decided during a packed meeting on Feb. 26.
Council chambers were filled to standing room-only an extremely rare sight during council’s meeting last week. Councillors heard two delegations – one from the Coalition of Haliburton County Property Owners’ Association’s board chairman Paul MacInnes and one from Glenn Evans of the Haliburton County Home Builders’ Association – regarding the draft bylaw.
While Haliburton County has had a shoreline tree preservation bylaw – restricting the cutting of trees within 30 metres of the high-water mark – since 2012 the new draft shoreline protection bylaw entails heightened protections including that of all vegetation within the same shoreline band along with stricter regulating of site alternations and other restrictions.
In a 20-minute presentation MacInnes detailed the interconnectivity between natural shorelines and lake health. Among benefits such as the prevention of erosion shorelines with native vegetation filter out phosphorous as well as other contaminants such as fertilizers and pesticides.
Even in a well-operating septic system MacInnes noted university research indicating that up to 35 per cent of phosphorous can still make its way into the ground.
“It’s critical that we have that deep-rooted vegetation along the shoreline to intercept that before it get into the water because phosphorous is enemy No. 1” he said.
In addition to filtering phosphorous from septic systems MacInnes noted that shoreline vegetation also filters it from the air and from rainwater which has a phosphorous concentration up to 10 times that of lake water. Catch basins for lakes he said are approximately 60 times the size of the lakes
“So that’s a lot of rainwater that needs to get filtered” said MacInnes who’d brought representatives from 23 lake associations throughout the county with him to last week’s meeting.
High levels of phosphorous lead to low oxygen levels in aquatic ecosystems which can create blue-green algae. Blue-green algae can lead to atrophy of lakes and once a lake starts developing blue-green algae blooms MacInnes noted it’s more likely to repeatedly develop them. This has been the case with some lakes in Muskoka which have seen plummeting property values as a result. In the summer of 2018 there were eight reported sightings of algae blooms in Haliburton County with one which later dissipated confirmed by the MOE.
In order to prevent a lake’s health from declining the CHA has said that 75 per cent of the shoreline should be natural and that currently just less than half the shorelines in Haliburton County are natural.
The CHA has advocated for an enhanced shoreline preservation bylaw.
“We’ve been discussing it publicly for two years” MacInnes said noting those conversations have also been covered in the local media and that the county had undertaken an online public consultation process. “If it’s a surprise to somebody that we’ve been talking about this they haven’t been paying attention.”
MacInnes said he thought there was misinformation about the draft bylaw circling in the community noting it would apply to new activity and that existing waterfront properties would be grandfathered under its regulations.
“I’ve seen some of the information that’s been sent around critical of the CHA and I take it personally” MacInnes continued “because the CHA when we come before county council and we give scientific information that scientific information comes from reputable sources. It comes from papers that have been peer-reviewed and passed. It comes from people who have checked and double-checked the sources. We don’t say something because we’ve read it on the internet.”
“And we don’t have a vested interest” MacInnes said. “We’re not trying to make money we’re not trying to make our jobs easier. We only have one vested interest and that’s keeping our lakes healthy.”
“There will be costs to this bylaw absolutely” MacInnes added. “It’s not going to be without costs it’s not going to be without adjustment. But it’s our belief that the costs of this bylaw will pale absolutely pale in comparison to the costs if we don’t protect our lakes.”
County Warden Liz Danielsen expressed how much council has appreciated the CHA’s work over the years and reiterated that public conversations regarding the draft bylaw have been ongoing for some time.
“Just for everyone’s information this is a process that did start a long time ago” Danielsen told the room adding that Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt had counted that during the past couple of years the bylaw had been discussed at at least 26 different meetings (a combination of upper-tier county and lower-tier municipal meetings) and appeared in nearly a dozen local newspaper articles.
“So for anyone to suggest that we’ve been working under the cloak of darkness or we haven’t been trying to get the message out is not fair” Danielsen said. “Our planner has provided us with a document that we’ve asked for. But it’s a draft document and it’s going to need some work and everyone is going to have an opportunity to have input.”
“First of all I want to say that I agree with council CHA has done an outstanding job” Evans said as he got up to the microphone on behalf of the home builders’ association. “We don’t want an adversarial-type situation. We believe that we can work together to protect our lakes we believe that is possible for mechanisms . . . to be put in place but we feel that the bylaw’s a little bit far-reaching.”
“The economic impact although it would be difficult to tell at this point what that economic impact might be I can share some stats with you that we have” Evans said.
He said the home builders’ association had done some polling among its membership as well as affiliated non-members such as landscapers and members of the real estate community “and that collectively there’s 980 full-time and part-time jobs and that’s just of the people that responded to our request for numbers . . . So I would suggest that number is probably low. There are lots of folks that did not respond.”
“On average when we rebuild a new home between deliver y people tradespeople truck drivers you name it there’s between 280 to 300 people that are working on that site . . . over the span of its duration” Evans added. “If one of those homes or one of those people says you know if I can’t at least do a little work at the shoreline – I’m not saying clear-cut I’m not saying any of that – but that would impact somebody’s decision to come here.”
Evans said the home builders looked forward to participating in the process and working with the county and the CHA. “This is not adversarial as I said” Evans reiterated. “We need to work together because this is very important it’s important to everyone.”
The county conducted an online public consultation process on the first draft of the bylaw throughout the fall using the application Wade In that process garnering hundreds of comments.
Danielsen suggested that before embarking on wider public consultation that county councillors should conduct a thorough review of the draft bylaw and first agree amongst themselves what should be included in a second draft.
“It’s my impression that having seen the full document and despite it being exactly what we asked for there are some differing opinions and approaches within council” the warden said suggesting that at their March committee-of-the-whole meeting councillors take an in-depth look at the draft bylaw. “So we’ve got a document that we at least are in agreement on and then the public can have a look at it and we can get more input from the public and all the stakeholders that are feeling strongly about this document.”
Moffatt said she agreed with a review by council as a next step.
“I’ve enjoyed a number of discussions and emails with a number of folks and I want to thank those folks who did reach out” Moffatt said. “And I feel having heard from a number of those people that I would come to that discussion fully armed to ask certain questions of clarity.”
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin agreed said he’d like to see a series of public meetings take place throughout the county going into the summer and also suggested the creation of a sort of Coles Notes user-guide version of the bylaw be drawn up so that residents can more easily understand what would be and not be permitted under the bylaw.
Devolin who’s in his second term said the bylaw “has been the most engaged item that we’ve had since I’ve sat in this chamber.”
Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy said that in addition to using online public platforms he’d also like to see a series of public meetings take place.
“I think it’s a tool but I would really advocate for an extensive public consultation right across the county” Kennedy said.
Kennedy and Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts both said they’d like to see the creation of sub-committee dedicated to the issue. Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall said he agreed with the direction but thought council needed to be careful of “building an elephant” that is creating an overly complicated process whereby council might risk losing the sight of the goal it’s trying to accomplish.
Ultimately councillors decided they would conduct a review of the draft bylaw and that staff will look at further online engagement opportunities as well as organizing a series of public meetings. The creation of a sub-committee or working panel will also be considered after the creation of a second draft.