By Chad Ingram
The County of Haliburton will create and post answers to frequently asked questions regarding a shoreline preservation bylaw, to be housed on the county’s website.
As previously reported, during a Jan. 27 meeting, county council voted to discontinue the in-house process that had been in place surrounding the creation of a shoreline preservation bylaw, and issue a request for proposals for a consulting firm to conduct scientific reviews, public consultation, and then produce a draft bylaw. That decision came after widespread public criticism that the draft bylaw that had been up for public review was too restrictive and difficult to understand.
While it will take months for a firm to be hired and then complete its work, Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said during a Feb. 10 online meeting that she would at least like to see the county proceed with creating a sort of one-page, FAQ document with answers to some frequently asked questions. There has been some suggestion in the community the draft bylaw would prevent residents from cutting their lawns, or trim their hedges, and Moffatt said it should be simple enough for the county to create a document to put those kinds of concerns to rest.
“I am going to circle back again to try to find a way to alleviate the concerns the public has,” Moffatt said. “Just because the emails have stopped for the time being, doesn’t mean the questions have gone away. So I want to ask again about a FAQ. I don’t understand why we can’t do our own work toward alleviating some questions and concerns on some simpler issues, such as yes, you can mow your lawn, and yes, you can prune your trees, and no, if you’re planning to rebuild your cottage and it’s within the 30 metres (a proposed setback distance for site alternation in the previous draft bylaw), you don’t have to move it behind the proposed 30 metres.”
Moffatt said providing such a document could help streamline the public consultation process, since many such concerns could be alleviated.
“I will bend to the will of council, obviously, but I find it incomprehensible why we can’t just simply put together a little, quick FAQ to give the public the answers to some of the questions, the most common questions that we’re being asked,” Moffatt said.
“I’ve been harping on this for some time now, and it just sounds continually like, well, we can and we could and we might,” Moffatt continued. “OK, when? The public still has questions and we have, thus far, failed to answer most of them.”
“I don’t think we failed to answer, I think we failed to communicate,” said Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts. “ … We need to get on top of the information. We need to be the source.”
Minden Hills Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell said she agreed with Moffatt.
“I think we’re making something bigger than it has to be,” Schell said. “I think we obviously need to let the consultant, when we get one, do their thing, but in the interim, there’s no reason why the county can’t provide just a simple FAQ on the website, to the questions that were asked repeatedly in those hundreds of emails that we received. I congratulate Councillor Moffatt for continually pushing on this, because it’s important stuff.”
Minden Hills Brent Devolin said he thought the online environment necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic provided opportunities and had also led to the volume of feedback that councillors had received on the draft shoreline bylaw.
“I think a by-product of COVID, with YouTube, is, we’re in a changing landscape, and I think there’s a mechanism there that’s allowed the public to get engaged that never did before. We can use that constructively. But, that’s why … I think if COVID hadn’t happened, the onslaught of feedback that we’ve got wouldn’t be of the scale that it is.”
“As I’ve said since 2014, I would like to see connectivity and video-streaming at all levels of government with a video data bank, become a permanent legacy,” Devolin added.
Moffatt eventually tabled a motion saying she’d like to see a FAQ created and posted publicly on the county website as soon as possible, with that motion approved by council.