Haliburton County changes direction on shoreline bylaw

·3 min read

County council is changing direction on its shoreline bylaw by hiring a private firm to continue work in response to public outcry.

Council unanimously voted at a special meeting Jan. 27 to put out a request for proposals. The chosen firm will lead further development on the bylaw, including reviewing related science, an environmental scan, exploring municipal comparators and public consultation.

The move comes after weeks of public pushback on the current draft of the shoreline bylaw, which aims to restrict development within 30 metres of shorelines. Coun. Carol Moffatt said the community is unravelling over the issue and there is a need to rebuild trust.

“That firm would provide the leadership to go around and talk to the various groups and tell us where we are - and maybe aren’t - on the mark in regional comparators,” Moffatt said.

More than 250 people watched the meeting live. Council discussed how much controversy the bylaw has garnered and the struggles to communicate it.

“We need to be providing really clear answers to the questions we’re getting,” Moffatt said, adding a comprehensive FAQ is needed. “It feels like a bit of a zombie apocalypse as opposed to people lined up, informed and willing to participate in a process. It just feels like it’s all over the map.

“We need to get the public off Facebook and we need to get them into our information portal,” she later said.

Council initially debated a motion by deputy warden Patrick Kennedy, backed by Coun. Andrea Roberts, to start a committee for the bylaw.

Kennedy said he had received a lot of feedback and justified concerns from smart people who also care about lake health. He said the County could explore other ideas beyond a uniform 30-metre setback, such as varying it based on lake capacity and water type.

“I’m not a planner, I’m not a fish biologist, I’m not a lawyer,” Kennedy said. “I’m trying to make the best decision and recommendations I can. I don’t feel like I have the tools.”

The idea got some positive reception, but councillors expressed concerns. Moffatt said given the controversy, picking public members of the committee could prove difficult, as people may perceive council as handpicking members for bad reasons.

“I believe we are so far down the vitriolic blame game that it would be impossible to adequately or usefully represent all interested parties without making it even worse,” Moffatt said.

Coun. Brent Devolin said in deciding to hire a firm, they had to be cognizant it likely meant the bylaw would not be in place for the 2021 building season.

“We have less than two years in the term of council. We need to get our business done,” Devolin said.

Roberts, who indicated a preference for the committee route, noted the cost comparison.

“There will be a financial implication for this,” she said, adding a committee would be less expensive, with locals with expertise willing to contribute for free.

Warden Liz Danielsen said people need to have patience with the County taking a step back.

“I’ve said it many times, we want to get this right,” she said. “I hope that process will help to do that.”

Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander