By Chad Ingram
I’ve covered Haliburton County council for a long time – a dozen years next month – and in that time, I’ve never seen a council so concerned about providing ample opportunity for public input as the current council is about providing such on the county’s draft shoreline protection bylaw.
As many readers will be aware, that draft bylaw, being created to help protect lake health in the county, restricts site alteration and the removal of vegetation within 30 metres of the high-water mark. Discussions around the creation of such a bylaw have been underway for a couple of years and earlier in 2020, county councillors had been discussing what kind of public consultation process would take place. The plan had been for at least a component of that public input process to include a series of town hall meetings that would have taken place throughout the summer. Then, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic struck Ontario. Work on the bylaw, and much other municipal business, was frozen for a number of months as the province went into lockdown.
Discussion on the draft bylaw resumed during a Sept. 9 county committee-of-the-whole meeting, that conversation just slightly shorter than the movie Titanic. For anyone to suggest that council is not doing a thorough job when it comes to the creation of this bylaw would be outrageous. That discussion was just one of many more that are going to take place. It included councillors reviewing sections of the draft bylaw and talking about what type of public input framework the county would undertake. That conversation was scheduled to continue this week. Obviously, as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, digital platforms and other remote means of communication will form a big part of that input framework. Council is even contemplating hiring a communications firm to create materials for that process.
Yes, the draft bylaw is controversial, as anyone who’s part of any waterfront community in the county can surely attest to. Around the eight-seat county council table, there is disagreement about what should be contained in the bylaw. While Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said he was comfortable putting it out for public review the way it was, Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy said he thought the draft bylaw went too far.
The bottom line is, the county is going way, way beyond anything it’s required to do to ensure there is ample opportunity for public input on this matter. Everyone who wants to have their say is going to get that chance, and anyone who says they were not aware of any of this, has not been paying attention.