Peterborough County supports changes to floating accommodation restrictions

Peterborough County council is supporting proposed provincial changes that will restrict floating accommodations, like barges and shipping containers, on local waterways, with the caveat that enforcement provisions need to be a part of new regulations.

“This is a potentially very serious issue. If you have a municipality with a fairly major lake or river on it, it is going to become a problem soon in your township,” said Joe Taylor, mayor of Otonabee-South Monaghan Township, at Wednesday’s county council meeting.

“I don’t know what the ministry is going to propose as far as enforcement, but that’s a big concern of mine because it really needs to be in first before some of the infractions begin to be taken seriously.”

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is inviting feedback from all municipalities in Ontario on the planned changes in response to the increased presence of floating accommodations that it says are “camping” on lakes.

Council voted to direct staff to prepare a response to the ministry supporting the proposed amendments and highlighting the importance of enforcement policies.

“This has been a real problem as people have bought up containers, shipping containers, put them on floats, and are living on them,” said Trent Lakes Deputy Mayor Carol Armstrong.

Bryan Weir, director of planning and public works for the county, told council the proposed amendments are “significant” and there is now a definition of floating accommodations.

They are not boats like cabin cruisers or other vessels primarily used for navigation (but which can accommodate people overnight), he said.

A ministry letter to municipalities states the proposed definition of a “camping unit” will be clarified to allow for camping on live-aboards and houseboats but will exclude floating accommodations, float homes and barges with residential units or camping facilities.

There are other new conditions for camping on water, the ministry says:

A reduction in the number of days that a person can camp on water over public land from 21 days to seven days.

An increase in the distance that a person camping on water must move their camping unit to be occupying a different location from 100 metres to one kilometre.

The prohibition of camping on water within 300 metres of a developed shoreline, including any waterfront structure, dock, boathouse, erosion control structure, altered shoreline, boat launch and/or fill.

The harmonization of conditions for camping on public land so that residents and non-residents are required to follow the same conditions when camping on water over public lands or on public lands.

Weir attended an information meeting on the topic recently where there were some “heated exchanges,” he said.

Some boaters were critical of the proposals, saying the province is now giving preferential treatment to landowners.

“There were some arguments from some of the towns that came in from the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron area about some of the shoreline settlement areas that rely on boaters to come in and buy their goods. And if it’s 300 metres, then they might not even bother,” Weir said.

“Then we did have landowners saying you know how fast sound travels on water and 300 metres can be nothing depending on the vessel and who is on it and what’s going on.”

County townships with waterfront properties have been wrestling with how to manage problems caused by cottage owners who rent their for short periods, known as short-term rentals.

These have resulted in complaints by other residents of noise, late-night partying, overcrowded properties, unsafe campfires and fireworks.

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner