Eganville – Bonnechere Valley council is in discussions to lease a strip of land along the Bonnechere River at the Fourth Chute to allow for public access, but council members expressed some concern over how the issue was handled and the wording of a sign which seemed to blame council for blocking access to begin with.
A special meeting was held on Monday afternoon to deal with some fallout from a sign which was posted at the location which stated council blocked access to a popular waterfront spot.
The sign, which stated “closed due to liability issues because BVT council declined a $1 land lease” was posted on a property owned by Multistream.
“We have never been given that offer,” Mayor Jennifer Murphy said succinctly during the ZOOM meeting in which an extensive background into the issue was presented. “If that is a true offer, of course we would have taken it. We would have jumped at it.”
The land has been fenced off since last summer, blocking access to the river, and because of the way the guardrail was reconstructed at the adjacent bridge, access to the township-owned strip of land has been cut off. The issue came to the public forefront recently when Councillor Jack Roesner – who is a partner in Multistream – was accused by mayoral candidate Jackie Agnew of cutting off access to the land. Last week the sign went up and following an article in the Leader about it, council called a special meeting to discuss the matter, with council agreeing to reach out to Multistream to discuss the offer, which it appeared was the first council had heard of it.
“If the sign is accurate or if the sign was put there by Multistream, it is a good offer,” Councillor Tim Schison said.
However, he also added how this was handled made him uncomfortable with the sign being put up stating council had declined the lease.
“It is kind of a strange way to do business with the municipality and council,” he said.
“I just wish they would have gone about it in a more professional manner,” Coun. Schison said.
Mayor Murphy said she was also “extremely confused and concerned” by the sign.
“That sign should never have gone up if it was not a full offer,” she said. “That is very disappointing.”
Councillor Brent Patrick said he saw the $1 lease as being “a really good offer for the ratepayers.”
This was a heavily utilized property, and it would be good to see it accessible, he said. “Hopefully we can sit down with the parties,” he added.
Councillor Merv Buckwald was the only one to voice a word of caution.
“We have to know exactly what we are getting into,” he said, pointing out there will be garbage issues to be dealt with and there have been problems with overnight camping already.
“I would love to have the spot open, but we have no one close to supervise it,” he said.
Coun. Roesner had declared a pecuniary interest as a joint owner of Multistream and did not speak.
Issue Dates Back to 2020
CAO Annette Gilchrist gave some background information, pointing out Multistream reached out on August 12, 2020, noting the township should have the property fenced to prevent people from accessing Multistream’s property if they are visiting the township property. Providing mapping, she showed how the township owns the shorefront road allowance and Multistream owns the land behind this. She noted a sign was put on township property preventing overnight campers, fires and controlling public use.
“The property was being used as a park historically and the signage was installed as a control mechanism not for park creation,” she explained in her report.
On May 31, 2021, Multistream again reached out asking if there was a township policy to fence parks. She replied there was not but there could be a request to share the cost of fencing, however, a request was never received.
“July 7, 2021, we received notice that Multistream was going to fence their property due to liability issues,” she said.
When township staff went to look at the property boundaries, staff shared various options with Multistream and set up a closed meeting to discuss the issue. The options were: negotiate a land swap; negotiate a lease of land from Multistream; sell or lease unopened shore road allowance to Multistream or leave things status quo. Council made the decision following a closed session to keep things status quo.
“Since that time the county has remediated the bridge and installed a guard rail which blocked access to the park,” Mrs. Gilchrist stated in her report. “The township is in the process of working with the county and Bonnechere Caves to try and solve the parking and access issue.” Staff received a call the morning Multistream was installing the fence and did reach out to ask “if installation could be postponed until the access issue was resolved, however, the materials were already purchased and the contractors were on site so we were told it was too late,” she noted.
The land was fenced off last summer, but it became an issue apparently this fall, about 13 months later when the Leader reported on the sign which was placed last week on the property and stated Multistream offered to lease the property to the township for $1.
“Council asked to meet on September 12, to discuss a media release in response to the Leader’s article of September 7,” Mrs. Gilchrist noted in her report.
“The township has contacted Multistream to request a meeting to discuss the details of a lease,” she added.
Mrs. Gilchrist advised council at the meeting she had heard back from a representative of Multistream.
“They are open to negotiating a lease,” she said. “Do you want to proceed with negotiating?”
Council agreed to reach out and formalize the lease details, which would be done in closed session. The issue could come to council again as quickly as the regularly scheduled meeting on September 20.
Budgeting for Path
In her comments, Mayor Murphy noted council has been budgetting to make a path on the township property down to the water when the guardrail was cut. The sign stating council had refused a $1 lease was unexpected because council had not been made that offer, she said.
“I’m disappointed that it happened because if it is a true offer, come to staff and we would make it happen,” she said.
BV owns the 66-foot road allowance by the river. The mayor stressed this was the first time she had heard the offer of $1 for a lease.
“I don’t think the county will ever cut that guardrail,” quipped Coun. Buckwald.
Mayor Murphy said she disagreed.
However, Mrs. Gilchrist did note while the township has been working with Bonnechere Caves and the county to resolve the parking and access issue, there has been “a pause” right now.
“We are having some difficulties having other parties come to the party,” she said.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader