By Chad Ingram
After some two years of discussions around the council table (and virtual council table) and embarking on a public input process, Haliburton County council has decided to halt its creation of a shoreline preservation bylaw, and will now hire a consulting firm to create such, conducting scientific and environmental reviews, as well as a public engagement process.
And that’s not a bad idea. However, the ideal time to do that would have been two years ago.
As many readers will be aware, the draft shoreline preservation bylaw has caused no shortage of controversy in the community, with a number of critics calling it too restrictive and questioning the scientific merit behind some of its specifics, in particular a 30-metre setback on site alteration and the removal of vegetation. There has also been criticism, including from some members of county council itself, that the draft bylaw was too ambiguous and difficult to understand, and that the communications process surrounding it was not robust enough.
Tensions ramped up through January in particular, with a flood of emails from waterfront property owners to councillors, and to the newspaper. In some cases, it sounds like things turned nasty, with name-calling and the like, which is obviously just uncalled for.
The situation had become heated and chaotic, which is clearly not the environment in which to make a decision of such magnitude.
There was suggestion by a couple of council members about the formation of a committee to steer the creation of a bylaw, an idea that was rightfully batted out of the air by Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. As Moffatt pointed out, at this point, there is too much tension, too much animosity among too many people for such a committee to even have a hope at functioning effectively. A neutral, third party with associated expertise hired through an RFP process is a much better idea, however, the whole situation makes it difficult not to feel that the past couple of years have been a waste.
Hours and hours of council discussion, hours and hours of staff time, the creation of a public input mechanism that included materials provided by a communications firm, hours and hours of time spent by members of the public looking through the draft bylaw and providing input.
While it had been hoped to have the bylaw, whatever its final form, in place by this summer, the process around hiring a consulting firm and allowing it to do its work means that timeframe is probably out the proverbial window.
An increasing number of blue-green algae blooms popping up in the county is real, and the decline of lake health in the county is real. Therefore, there is some race against time in all of this. The hiring of a consultant will of course also make the process more expensive than the largely in-house one that had been occurring.
All that said, the process that was in place has been halted, which should mean everyone can put away the pitchforks and torches.