The debate around the County’s shoreline protection bylaw is intensifying as the municipality prepares to put the current draft up for public discussion.

County council completed a review of the bylaw Nov. 23, with the municipality planning a public meeting later this winter and enforcement starting in April. Cottage, environmental and building associations alike are examining the bylaw, with outcry from some groups about the current draft.

The proposed rules aim to curtail shoreline degradation and thus preserve lake health by limiting development within 30 metres of shorelines. But the Haliburton County Home Builders Association (HCHBA) is asking for changes and said the setback goes too far.

“We feel some of the items required for the site alteration plan are excessive and, in the end, it could negatively affect local businesses,” spokesperson Aaron Galbraith said. “We just want to work with them to get to a common ground.”

The Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners Associations (CHA) has driven the concern around shoreline health. It has pointed to research about shorelines needing 75 per cent naturalization to maintain water quality and help prevent algae blooms. A CHA assessment of 60 local lakes found only 47-48 per cent of their shorelines were natural.

Galbraith said the HCHBA wants the bylaw delayed until after the pandemic, to allow a proper public meeting instead of an online one. But Environment Haliburton! vice-president Terry Moore said they want to see it finalized as soon as possible due to the pandemic creating a “building frenzy” on shorelines.

“That is translating into a lot of development pressure that is doing so much damaging stuff,” Moore said.

Galbraith responded that many in the landscaping sector such as him build responsibly.

“Unfortunately, in any trade, there are going to be people that try to skirt around the rules. But a lot of us follow the rules and we’re actually helping our lake systems by securing our shorelines,” he said.

The County is also opening discussion on mandating shoreline renaturalization, which is not in the current draft. CHA chair Paul MacInnes said his organization is concerned adding that would slow the process too much.

“If the bylaw is passed, we should all work together to convince property owners to voluntarily renaturalize our shorelines,” MacInnes said. “With 10 suspected algae blooms reported this year, more and more people realize that we need to act urgently.”

Galbraith said the HCHBA would like the requirement and it makes sense by the CHA’s own report.

“They want to achieve 75 per cent (naturalized shoreline),” Galbraith said. “There’s no way to attain that without making past offenders remediate their properties.”

The HCHBA has begun advertising on the issue. They claimed a landowner could need to spend $10,000 for project approval with no guarantee of success, which Galbraith said was based on a talk with a local professional surveyor. The HCHBA also estimated it could cost $750,000 per year to implement the bylaw. In the first draft of its 2021 budget, the County projects a $115,000 cost for two staff to enforce the bylaw. Galbraith said the HCHBA feels it will take more.

In a Facebook post, Moore said the HCHBA’s points are “extreme exaggerations” adding heat to an already polarized debate.

“With healthy lakes being so essential to a healthy, sustainable future for the members of your association, why is the HCHBA focused exclusively on drumming up opposition to a bylaw aimed at preserving that future?” Moore asked.

Galbraith said the HCHBA wants to find a solution which works for the environment, property owners and local businesses.

“We are not ‘exclusively trying to drum up opposition’,” Galbraith said. “We are simply trying to ensure that all lakefront property owners in Haliburton County are aware of the proposed bylaw and the possible impacts.”

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