By Chad Ingram
Published May 25 2017
It looks like residents of Bob Lake may suethe property owner who blocked access to a long-used boat launch on hisproperty last year.
During their May 25 meeting MindenHills councillors received a visit from lake resident Gerry Meade.
“I'm here as a private individual” Meadeclarified as he began his presentation but noted there were representatives ofthe several road associations from the Bob Lake area present at the meeting. “Iknow my views are shared by many.”
Meade explained he bought his cottage onBob Lake in 1989 for two reasons. The first was that it was larger than MindenLake where his family had previously had a cottage for years.
The second was the presence of the boatlaunch.
“And it also had a public boat ramp so Icould get a large boat in and out” Meade said. “The loss of the public boatramp has deprived me of full use of my property.”
The boat launch at Bob Lake was mistakenlyadvertised by Minden Hills township as a public launch for years. It was onlywhen the property owner barricaded the launch last summer that it becameevident to the community the launch had always been privately owned.
Citing litigious concerns after someonereportedly told him the launch was unsafe the owner blocked off access to thesite with a chain barrier in the spring of 2016 and later a line offlagstones. This was done after many boats had already been put in the waterfor the season.
Residents came to council saying theirboats were being held hostage on Bob Lake. There is no public launch on thewater body.
The township eventually came to anagreement with the property owner and during an 11-day period nearThanksgiving residents were permitted to use the launch to remove theirvessels.
However many had already done so afterone of the flagstones was moved.
While the township has been working on along-term strategy during the winter Reeve Brent Devolin said during an April27 Minden Hills council meeting that finding a solution had been unsuccessful.
At that meeting Devolin pointed out thatof the 600 or so lakes in Haliburton County relatively few of them have publicboat launches.
“That's kind of a spurious argument”Meade said in council chambers Thursday. “It's not the same as buying on a lakewhere no public boat ramp existed in the first place.”
It's Meade's belief that the prolongeduse of the boat launch – some residents have said their families have used itfor generations – validates a prescriptive easement a sort of legalright-of-way over property that has been used for prolonged periods of timewithout contest.
Devolin said the township had looked at anumber of options including a prescriptive easement.
“We had this brought early on to our attention”Devolin said. “This was brought to the attention of our lawyers.”
The reeve said the advice the townshiphad received from its legal counsel was that the township did not meet thecriteria for a prescriptive easement meaning the municipality could notdemonstrate 20 consecutive years or use and owns no dominant land in the area.
“Obviously none of us are lawyers”Devolin said. “We have to take their advice. Private individuals absolutelywill have rights and can take legal action. We have played our hand out. Wehave exhausted every avenue that we could.”
“It sounds like you've abandoned us”said Meade who also said “We will probably be establishing a group to takelegal action.”
The township also looked at a severanceof the property but Devolin said that because Bob Lake is an at-capacity lakesevering the piece of land containing the launch is not possible.
It also investigated a private-publicpartnership for the property which would have entailed landowners bandingtogether to purchase the property. Devolin said this received a “resounding no”from the local road associations. “We were very surprised.”
Last summer the Times contactedMichael John Hotchkiss-Earl a Belleville resident whose family has owned theproperty for the past century. Hotchkiss-Earl was looking after the sale of theproperty on behalf of his uncle.
“I don’t really feel that way” he saidwhen told Bob Lake residents said their boats were being held hostage. “I’mtrying to sell a piece of property.”
According to Hotchkiss-Earl thebarricade at the boat launch stems from a situation that actually began theprevious summer when a boat had gotten loose on a boat owner using the ramp.
“They basically told me I had an unsafe boatramp” he said. “I don’t need the liability.”