By Chad Ingram
A new shoreline preservation bylaw for Haliburton County should be ready for final approval by council by October, county councillors heard during a June 23 online meeting.
Council received an introductory presentation from representatives of Hutchinson Environmental Sciences Ltd. and engineering and planning firm J.J. Richards and Associates, the companies that have been hired by the county for the creation of the bylaw.
The county had begun meetings regarding the drafting of a bylaw aimed at protecting lake health by restricting site alteration and the removal of vegetation near water bodies in early 2020. However, there was significant controversy and public criticism of a draft bylaw – particularly a recommended setback of 30-metres for site alternation and vegetation removal – as well as the in-house process the county had undertaken, and in January of this year, council decided to abandon that process and instead hire a consultant for the creation of a draft bylaw.
The consultants have been in discussions with county staff, and last week provided council with an introduction of the team who will be responsible for the project – with extensive education and experience in environmental sciences, planning and public policy – as well as the proposed work plan and public engagement strategy.
The consultants will review the draft bylaw the county had created, conduct a scientific literature review, research successful practices in other municipalities, and conduct a public consultation process. An extended public consultation process, approved by council, will lengthen the project’s timeline by four to six weeks, and increase its price tag by approximately $13,000. The initial contract was for $41,605.
That public consultation process will take place in two rounds. A first round will address questions of “What?” and “Why?” when it comes to the bylaw, and include a series of virtual public open houses, surveys (both paper and electronic) and one-on-one interviews with municipal staff and stakeholders.
A first draft report will then be produced, which Jason Ferrigan, a senior planner for J.J. Richards, expected would happen in August. A second round of public consultations will then take place, addressing the question of “How?” the bylaw will work, with a final report expected to come back to county council in September or October.
“The advantage to this is that it will give council the ability to understand stakeholder perspectives on the draft bylaw prior to its final consideration by council,” read correspondence from Ferrigan.
Councillors were in favour of the consultation framework.
“I’m ecstatic with your visit consultation program, it kind of, will leave no stone unturned,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin. “… I’m confident that you’ll help us with your balanced approach to have the best outcome that we can.”
“Given the amount of controversy associated with this project, I can’t see us saying no to as much consultation at every level of this process as we can possibly do,” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen.
“The extended time and the next round is absolutely the way we should go on this issue,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt.
The consultants had drafted a list of stakeholders from whom to solicit feedback, Moffatt questioning some of the organizations on that list, including lake associations.
“We know there’s been a lot of angst and disruption among the associations and their memberships and those who are not members,” Moffatt said. “Associations don’t represent all property owners, and that’s a concern that has been made very clear and loudly to us over the last year.”
Moffatt pointed to dozens of emails councillors have received from residents of Kennisis Lake, indicating the lake association doesn’t speak for them. “I think we need to just be cautious around that, and make sure that we acknowledge and fully understand that lake associations don’t represent all property owners, but we do,” she said. “… If an association doesn’t have a signed constitution saying, we can bind the membership, then what an executive says, no offence, doesn’t really matter, because they don’t have the authority to bind their membership. So, I’m struggling with that point of constitutional work within lake associations. How do we hear from lake associations, knowing that they duly represent their paid members, and how do we also hear from people, and ensure we hear from people, who do not belong to any organization or association?”
Moffatt also pointed to the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce being included on the stakeholder list, pointing out it is also a membership-based organization, and questioned the inclusion of the Crowe Valley Conservation Authority, whose jurisdiction includes some of Highlands East. The rest of the county is not represented by any conservation authority and Moffatt suggested that more locally-based groups, such as the Coalition for Equitable Water Flow, for instance, may have more insight.
“I really appreciate Councillor Moffatt’s questions, because the questions really do kind of get to the heart of building a good engagement and consultation strategy, and the key to that is sort of understanding your community, and how to adapt your approaches to reflect your community,” Ferrigan said.
Ferrigan said he thought input from the conservation authority was important in terms of harmonizing regulations. “They may only represent a small portion of the geography that we’re dealing with, but they do bring an important perspective to the table in terms of a regulatory perspective, and that’s why we feel it’s important to consult with them,” he said, adding the consultants would take into consideration the suggestion of additional organizations.
As for the chamber of commerce, Ferrigan said he believed it would bring a local business perspective.
As for lake associations, Ferrigan said he recognized the point Moffatt was making in terms of associations not representing the views of all their members, or all the residents of their lakes.
“It is difficult when you’re in a situation where an organization is making statements that may not represent all of the members that they represent,” he said. “That is a true governance issue, and that is their governance issue, with respect. The challenge here is to understand what their perspective is, to reflect that, both in the feedback and in the ultimate recommendations that are brought forward.”
Ferrigan said the consultants planned to send letters to each of the county’s registered lake associations, asking them to respond in writing, and then bring that feedback to county council through the first and possibly second round of the consultation strategy.
“My top concern is echoed by Councillor Moffatt, with respect to the lake associations,” said Danielsen, “and the fact that they truly don’t represent all of people that live on the lakes. And there are some very divergent views there.
“One thing I want to stress is that, you have a list of stakeholders and we may wish to add to that list,” Danielsen continued. “And for anyone who’s listening, I would really like to stress that no one stakeholder is more important than another. Everybody’s voice needs to be heard to [the] greatest extent possible.”
Danielsen said she saw the value of consulting the chamber of commerce as an entity, as well as business owners themselves.
“In the face of not seeing any other concern around the lake associations, I’ll leave it,” said Moffatt, “but I still think it’s problematic to take statements from an organization that hasn’t proven it has gone through an internal process that allows it to speak on behalf of its members, but I’ll let that lie.”
Danielsen noted that the list of stakeholders included lake associations, but did not mention the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations, whose membership includes dozens of the county’s associations.
Ferrigan said that was oversight on the part of the consultants, and that the CHA would be included on the list.
“So that would mean that certain lake associations would have a double voice in the process,” Moffatt said, “through CHA as an umbrella organization, sort of a mother ship.”
She added, “I had thought that the associations being separated out was sort of on purpose, so that they could speak for themselves as opposed to speaking through a second group that has one of the passionate positions.”
The CHA has loudly voiced its support for a shoreline preservation bylaw, while the Haliburton Homebuilders’ Association has loudly voiced its concerns that the draft bylaw as it had been proposed was too restrictive.
“Is that not the case though, with the chamber and the homebuilders and local contractors?” said Danielsen, noting many landscaping and construction businesses were members of the chamber of commerce. “Really, the same argument would apply there. And they’re both so engaged in this process and have such strong positions that maybe they deserve a double voice.”
“That’s fine,” said Moffatt. “I think it’s very important in this process that we acknowledge this, and if council’s fine with that, then we can be satisfied that … the question was asked, we had a conversation, we’re satisfied with the answer, we’ll move ahead. As opposed to, what we have experienced in the last year and a half, which is accusations of, you know, cloak of darkness and weird connections to various groups and biases and whatnot, so I think it’s very important to acknowledge any of the questions or concerns that we are hearing from the public.”
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said he was satisfied with the consultation process as it had been laid out.
“Lots of people wear different hats … we know and acknowledge that that’s the case,” Devolin said. “I would say that there are some primary stakeholders that are identified, but the reality is, this is an open process. Every single individual has an opportunity to be involved in it. And so, I think although you could say that it’s imperfect, I think it’s totally inclusive with how this will work out, and if anybody doesn’t have any input in this process, it’s because they’ve decided not to.”