By Sue Tiffin
County councillors are expecting to see a “clean” version of the shoreline preservation bylaw at a meeting in April.
In a three-hour discussion on March 9, councillors reviewed recommendations of the draft bylaw section by section, asking questions of definitions, looking for clarity on details including what constitutes a minor or major project, and largely expressing support of a 20-metre setback distance, rather than the 30-metre buffer zone recommended by consultants that had been met with public criticism.
The county began the process of creating a shoreline preservation bylaw aimed at protecting lake health in 2017, opting in 2020 to scrap the in-house process that had been undertaken and instead hire a consultant to help create what had been a significantly controversial project. Since then, numerous opportunities for public feedback have been available through surveys and open houses and a draft bylaw has been created and then reviewed numerous times.
Minutes into the meeting, county warden and Algonquin Highlands mayor Liz Danielsen said it wasn’t her expectation that the document would be passed that day, instead that councillors would discuss revisions with Jason Ferrigan, a senior planner from engineering and planning firm J.J. Richards and Associations, and Steve Stone, the county’s director of planning, who were also in attendance at the virtual gathering.
The buffer zone recommended in the plan that restricts site alteration and the removal of vegetarian within 30 metres of the high-water mark around waterbodies was discussed by councillors, with most agreeing they would support a zone of 20 metres instead, though a 30-metre zone is the provincial standard and also noted in local official plans. Currently the county’s existing tree preservation bylaw prohibits the cutting of trees within that area, known as “the ribbon of life,” for its ecological importance.
“We’ve looked at it and looked at it and looked at it but the one outstanding thing is the setback distance,” said Danielsen. “Are we going to stick with the 30 metres that’s been recommended and is consistent with other county documents, or are we going to get into a bidding war for different distances?”
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt noted that consultants and previous conversations had said that there’s “still a good level of protection,” at 20 metres.
Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall said he didn’t support 30 metres, as “there is really not a great amount of difference between 20 and 30 metres,” and said of the people who responded in the community, 63 per cent wanted the setback to be 20 metres or less.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said he still supported 30 metres but said for him the “ultimate goal” was passing the bylaw even if not all of the elements were to his liking.
Danielsen said her preference for a 30-metre setback was based on consistency and the recommendations they had received, but said she was open to 20 metres if that’s what everyone else was agreeing to, with the opportunity to correct the number later “if we find we’ve made an error.”
Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy said he would prefer 10 metres, or 15 max, “to be consistent with the province of Quebec. I’ll live with what the other councillors are saying but that’s my personal vote.”
Ryall, Moffatt, Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton, Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts and Minden Hills Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell all supported a 20-metre setback.
Moffatt said there are external factors that have been acknowledged that also make an impact on shoreline health.
“Wakeboats, invasive species – we spent more time on a shoreline bylaw than we’ve ever talked about invasive species – the damage from geese, we now have cormorants in the area and they are a disaster,” she said. “Climate change is going to heavily impact fluctuating water levels which really impact our shorelines because we don’t have the same steady littoral zones that other non-reservoir lake systems would have. I think it’s important to continually be attentive to those factors that are incredibly frustrating, beyond our control, and that we are asking property owners to bear the burden of their half of the lake health, when there’s nothing we can do about the other side of it. That continues to be a real problem.”
Danielsen said councillors would continue following through with upper levels of government to “hammer away at some of those issues in whatever way we can.”
Moffatt also stressed the need for a plan for public education and for information in a simplified manner so property owners wouldn’t have to sift through the bylaw for answers.
Changes requested during the March 9 meeting will be made to the bylaw, which will come back to council in April along with a step-by-step implementation policy.
For more information on the draft bylaw visit https://haliburton.civicweb.net/ or watch the meeting in its entirety via the County of Haliburton YouTube page.