Building booms and ecological busts

By Terry Moore

By all accounts, the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed a feeding frenzy of recreational property sales and building permit applications across cottage country, including Haliburton County.

It appears that restrictions on foreign travel together with the lockdowns of large parts of the economy caused those with the wealth required to buy, build or renovate second homes, to look to the near-north as a means to reduce viral risk while work remotely at the same time.

Anyone doubting that we’re in the midst of one of the largest building booms in living memory need only check out the growing mountains of construction waste piling up at County landfill sites.

The virus that continues to infect growing numbers of people in Ontario’s densely-populated urban and congregate care centres has done much more than expose the fault lines in health care and public health systems suffering from years of austerity budgeting at the hands of governments of all political stripes.


It’s also exposing the inadequacy of local development and planning rules to protect the natural environment upon which everyone seems to agree all this economic growth is dependent.

Despite the clear warnings contained in the sobering results of the massive four-year-long “Love Your Lake” (LYL) shoreline health assessment project, undertaken by the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations (CHA) and its 50 or so lake association partners from 2014- 2018, development pressure on Haliburton County’s ever-dwindling stock of natural shoreline has escalated.

For those unfamiliar with the LYL assessment conclusions, it found that only eight of 60 Haliburton lakes examined retained sufficient natural shoreline to protect Haliburton’s famous lake water quality. It identified more than 5,000 shoreline properties in need of re-naturalization up to the 75 per cent minimum natural standard, established by healthy shoreline and water quality experts.

With the stock of undeveloped shoreline lots getting smaller and smaller, redevelopment of shoreline structures on existing footprints has increasingly become the order of the day – especially on lakes with a longer cottaging history.

While construction on undeveloped lots across Haliburton’s four townships must be set back at least 30m from the highwater mark, thereby giving ecologically essential shoreline vegetation a fighting chance of survival, such is not the case for rebuilds of shoreline structures constructed under older grand-parented official plan and zoning bylaw rules.

Throughout the past summer, lake association Facebook pages were alive with comments and controversy about the impact of new shoreline property owners’ desire to bring suburbia north along with a party culture that does violence to the getting closer to nature and listening to your brain hum preferences of their often shellshocked neighbours.

Despite the existence of the County’s complaint-based Shoreline Tree Preservation Bylaw, in place since 2012, many instances of tree cutting to the shoreline still abound across the County. Neighbours are reluctant to complain about neighbours and the County lacks any real surveillance capacity. So, the damage goes on and on.

A draft bylaw flowing out of the LYL project to extend Shoreline Tree preservation to shoreline vegetation preservation within 30m of the highwater mark met some heavy resistance from the shoreline landscaping industry just before the pandemic was declared in March and is only now beginning to find its way back into the public consultation phase for possible passage next spring.

In the meantime, there is a growing debate on Haliburton County shorelines about the tension between those holding the view that my property is my property and I have the right to do what I want on it and with it and those wanting to protect the wider community’s interest in protecting lake health from the potential negative cumulative impact of individual property owner actions.

If you believe that natural shorelines are important to defend and restore, call and write your township and county councillors to let them know. Make your voice heard in the upcoming public consultation on the draft Shoreline Preservation Bylaw ( en/living-here/shoreline-preservation.aspx).

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