/Dealing with docks on public property

Dealing with docks on public property

By Chad Ingram

Minden Hills council is considering what to do about the proliferation of private docks placed on publicly owned shoreline road allowances within the township, and is looking to involve the public in that conversation.
Councillors received a report regarding private docks on public property from township planner Ian Clendening during an online April 8 committee-of-the-whole meeting.

As that report indicates, the existing policy regarding such docks essentially divides them into three categories: one, those outside the village of Minden, where they are to be ‘directly across the road’ from the benefitting property; two, within the village of Minden along the Gull River, where no additional docks are permitted; and within the village of Minden; and, three, within Riverwalk, where existing docks are permitted to remain, at the discretion of the township.

There is a $350 application fee to apply for permission to place a dock on a publicly owned shoreline road allowance.

As the report continues, more and more docks are being places on public road allowances, and there is no registry system to keep track of them.
“As highlighted above, the absence of a registry system has led to the uncontrolled proliferation of docks on township property,” it reads. “Enforcement is made extremely difficult due to the nature of the docks. Education could be used as a tool to mitigate claims of private ownership of township property, however absent a dedicated revenue tool such a program is forced to compete with other township priorities.
“Should council wish to proceed with an enforceable system of dock licensing, staff recommend that a database of existing docks be compiled. Notice of the requirement to register a dock could be sent to property owners in areas where the policy might apply. To encourage voluntary participation staff recommend a waived or reduced application fee to all or a category of dock licences. Further, staff would recommend that compliance be enforced with meaningful action if voluntary participation cannot be achieved. Finally, dock owners should be provided with a plate or other system of identifying a dock as being licensed which would be affixed to the licensed dock.”

Such a system would require an agreement with the County of Haliburton, since it owns some shoreline road allowances within the township.

Mayor Brent Devolin said there were many considerations to make, included the removal of all private docks from public lands.
“This is a big philosophical can of worms,” Devolin said. “And we’re kind of in the middle. So, we can either register them all, and put a mechanism in place. In my opinion, it’s a full-time job, Somebody would do nothing but do this. And the other end of the scale, would be removal of all, on said municipal land, full stop.”
“It doesn’t matter where we go with this, we’re going to have people ticked off in great and large numbers,” he said.

Councillor Bob Carter, noting the influx of people to the county amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said he’s received some calls regarding the sale of properties where new owners are being told by realtors they can use road allowances for the construction of docks. “So I guess, what I’m just trying to emphasize is that, we’re not going to be able to duck this issue, in terms of delaying it. We’re going to have to go ahead and, I agree 100 per cent with Ian, that if we’re going to do this, we have to do it with some teeth. There are more and more docks … appearing on these road allowances, where people don’t even live near a lake. They’re just putting up a dock. In some cases, we have no idea who they are. This is a problem.”

Councillor Jean Neville agreed something must be done.
“This is a major problem, and we have to address it sooner than later,” Neville said. “And, if we have to make up something and just go along and staple it to everybody’s dock saying, produce your permit, or apply for a permit for this dock, because, as Councillor Carter said, there’s all kinds of them being put up where people don’t even live near the lake.”

Like Carter, Neville said she receives numerous phone calls about the proliferation of docks.
“The mayor said we’re going to get a lot of disgruntled people by doing it, but we have a lot of disgruntled people now, because people are saying, this is their property, and excluding people from docks that they don’t even own and they don’t have any right to have there,” Neville said.  
“I’m kind of ticked off, myself,” she said. “I pay taxes for shoreline residential, and so why should somebody be able to stick a dock out here, and have all the amenities of being on a shoreline residential [property], with their plants and their boats and their water sports and everything, and they don’t pay shoreline residential taxes. That’s not fair to all of us that do pay shoreline taxes, and own our shoreline allowance.”

Devolin said the conversation was the beginning of many to follow.  
“The seven of us have to decide, philosophically, where you want to go down the road with this,” he said. “We may not be all on the same page, that’s fine. It’s worthy of discussion.”
“Wherever we go with this, we can’t duck this anymore,” Devolin continued. “And before the end of this term of council, we need to significantly decide this, where we’re going with this. It’s big, it’s important, and the longer we defer if, the messier it’s going to be.”

Devolin said eventually he thought the discussion would need to involve some kind of task force, or another mechanism through which residents can have their say.
“I think that’s the road we’re going to have to go down with this,” he said. “That it’s an inclusive, community-based discussion with stakeholders, whether they formally have a seat at the table or there’s a conduit … If you think that the county shoreline bylaw and the hornets’ nest that has been around this, it will pale to where we’ll go with this, with existing docks.”