By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County councillors have resumed conversations regarding a shoreline protection bylaw for the county, one that would restrict site alteration and the removal of vegetation within 30 metres of the high-water mark around waterbodies.
Aimed at protecting lake health, those restrictions would go further than the county’s existing tree preservation bylaw, which prohibits the cutting of trees within that 30-metre band, known as “the ribbon of life,” for its ecological importance.
Conversations around the creation of the bylaw had gotten underway earlier this year, causing some controversy, particularly with local landscaping and construction companies. County council was planning a public input process that would have taken place throughout the summer with a series of town hall meetings, however, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted that process.
County council resumed those talks during their Sept. 9 committee-of-the-whole meeting, reviewing and requesting revisions to a draft bylaw during a conversation that lasted more than two hours. A revised draft of the bylaw will come back to the council table, and a public input process will follow. Councillors also discussed a public communication and consultation plan during last week’s meeting.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt wondered how the bylaw would dovetail with existing bylaws at the lower-tier municipal level.
“That’s one of the questions that I’ve received a lot, is, can we get a broader explanation how the dovetailing will happen with municipalities and their bylaws and how they will work together?” Moffatt asked county planner Charlsey White. “This will be delegating the authority up to the county and what happens, or what could or should happen, with any municipal bylaws that are lesser or conflict, and can you explain that?”
“In some cases the local municipalities have bylaws in place that cover some of these items,” White said, using clean and clear bylaws, in place at the lower-tier level, as an example. “If that’s to be included in the shoreline preservation bylaw, then what would happen before, I would recommend this to come into effect at the county, is work with the local municipality to either repeal, or repeal and replace, the bylaw that may conflict with this item.”
“At the local level, there are no site alteration bylaws,” White continued. “This would be the first and this would only apply across the shoreline areas, in all municipalities.”
That’s the way the county’s existing tree preservation bylaw works as well.
“That is one of the many, many things I think we’ve heard from the public,” Moffatt said, “is to eliminate that duplication or confusion, to achieve that one-stop shopping . . . I’ve heard that over and over.”
There was some concern from some council members that the bylaw was too restrictive in some places, especially in the definition of “vegetation.”
“I find this part extremely problematic,” Moffatt said, “I fully support the protection and I get it, I get it, I want to do the best we can, but . . . people’s yards are full of ragweed, and they might have allergies. You know, you can’t tell me that someone has to get a permit from the county to pull ragweed out of their lawn because they have allergies. How far is too far?”
“Where are we crossing over from responsible maintenance, to treating people like children?” Moffatt added.
White said the draft bylaw included a list of work that would not require a permit from the county, “and some of that is exactly what you’re talking about, just maintaining of existing landscaping or docks. If that material is in the area, no, we don’t want to have that species-specific, you need to come in if you’re doing ‘x.’ We want to make it clear so that people understand what they can easily do in their yard to maintain their yards. But yeah, we don’t to have that permit for clipping your ragweed.”
Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy said he found the draft bylaw too restrictive.
“I think this is over the top, in my opinion,” Kennedy said. “Things like goldenrod, if I want to trim some shrubs. Even though you say you don’t want to nit-pick, I can just see it’s going to be a nit-pick. If I bought waterfront, I’d be pretty concerned that I couldn’t trim out some things that were noxious and allergenic without having to apply for a county permit, or listen to neighbour complaints.”
“I think this is really the crux of the bylaw, and if we’re not considering leaving this language in, the rest of the bylaw falls apart,” White said. “So maybe it’s creating language to better explain the questions being asked here, so that it is clear that we’re not being that nit-picky. What we’re talking about is larger developments.”
Kennedy added that similar bylaws in other regions extend 15 to 20 metres from the high-water mark, as opposed to 30, and said in his opinion the bylaw did nothing to address shoreline erosion.
“I guess I’ll be the contrarian, I’m all in,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin, adding he supported leaving the draft bylaw the way it was and putting it out for public comment as such. “In central Ontario, I haven’t been in any jurisdiction where I think the existing rules are working, at all . . . I don’t kid myself that this is going to be easy, I do not. But water quality and natural habitat is the underpinning of the economy of Haliburton County, full stop, and I see no other route [than] to buy into this philosophically, work with the elements that are challenging or problematic, and if elements are unworkable, to modify or remove them in the future as we go forward.”
Devolin added he thought having the bylaw complete by next spring would be in the county’s best interest, and a number of councillors mentioned they’d heard or witnessed major shoreline alteration projects that have taken place this year, with residents anticipating the creation of the bylaw.
“I am interested in being in the weeds because I think it’s my job to represent the concerns that people have and the questions that have been asked, and, I can’t send something out for public consultation until I fully understand what the implications are and some of those details are,” Moffatt said.
Circling back to the issue of shoreline erosion that Kennedy had broached, Moffatt said, “I have an example of somebody I know who waited two years – wait until we get to the ministry, the other agencies part [of the bylaw] – two years for an MNR permit, all the while, their shoreline was falling into the lake, and eating their property back toward their building. So, it’s all well and good for us to say we’re going to rely on the jurisdictional parameters of other agencies, but only if those agencies are responding in a timely and efficient manner.”
As for public consultation, a number of councillors seemed to agree to the idea of hiring a communications firm to create promotional and educational materials, and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, public input will be facilitated digitally and through means other than in-person town hall meetings.
A revised draft of the bylaw and updated information regarding the public input framework will come back to the council table.