By Chad Ingram
Lazing on the dock on a sunny afternoon, the kids bounding from it into the lake, the sound of splashing, and the whir of boats in the background. This is a central part of the summer experience in the Haliburton Highlands for many.
However, more and more, docks – or rather, private docks placed without permission on public property – are becoming a problem for the county’s municipal governments.
Private docks on public property are nothing new. Think of any shoreline road in the county, with cottages and homes on one side, then the road, then the lake on the other side. Invariably, the lakesides of such roads are dotted with docks, decks and boathouses, many of which have existed in their locations for decades upon decades. In some instances, the shoreline road allowances where these structures exist may have been purchased by adjacent property owners. In some instances, adjacent property owners may have purchased a permit to install a dock on a township-owned road allowance. In some instances, the structures may have simply been put there, technically illegally, but allowed to remain, remnants of less regulated and more casual time in the county.
In Minden Hills, there is a policy that specifies that in such situations, a permit for a dock may only be purchased by property owners directly across the road.
Traditionally, such situations have not caused widespread issues.
What has been happening for the past few years, however, is a proliferation of privately owned docks at municipally owned water access points, typically at the end of roads, locations that have traditionally been used as public swimming holes, and for the launch of light watercraft. What is happening at some of these locations is that people installing docks, with no permission whatsoever, are then telling other members of the public that their docks are private property, or that they are not permitted to use that access point, and so on. In some cases people whose residences are nowhere near the water are installing these docks. Arguments and confrontations are occurring.
It seems that for some, there is a certain lack of respect for the rights of others to access the water, the water of course being the county’s most primary and sacred public asset.
This is happening in all of the county’s townships, and has been discussed around their respective council tables in recent years. In late 2020, Algonquin Highlands council ordered the removal of docks placed on public property along North Shore Road.
Last week, Minden Hills councillors discussed what they might do about the growing issue. The township’s planner has suggested the creation of a registry system to keep track of dock permits. Mayor Brent Devolin has suggested the operation of such a system may require the addition of a full-time staff person. Devolin also suggested that perhaps the removal of all private docks on public property is something council should consider. That discussion, which Devolin referred to as a “big philosophical can of worms,” will undoubtedly leave many people unhappy, regardless of its conclusion, which council is very aware of.
It’s sad that this level of regulation is becoming necessary, but the county seems to be changing in such a way where that is indeed the case.