County council debated the future of its shoreline bylaw and will hold another special meeting to address an increasingly fraught debate over the legislation.

Council decided to schedule a special meeting Jan. 27 to examine the bylaw and its upcoming public consultation, which will include both an online survey and a public meeting in February or March. Councillors weighed whether the document – which would restrict development within 30 metes of the shoreline – should be slowed in the wake of increased outcry.

Warden Liz Danielsen lamented the spread of misinformation and council receiving some vitriol.

“Disappointed to see the number of people who are willing to cast aspersions about us and our work,” she said. “About the thought that this is being sprung upon them and we’re doing this under the cloak of secrecy. This is a topic that’s been under discussion for 2.5 years and longer.

“It is unfortunate that people feel they need to start calling us names and giving members of council a difficult time … The raft of emails we have received in the last couple of weeks, I believe are reactive of the misinformation.”

She said they must find a way to combat the misinformation. She indirectly referenced the Haliburton County Home Builders Association (HCHBA) estimating a $750,000 cost to enforce the law and advertising that. However, that figure is inaccurate. The County’s current 2021 draft budget features $115,000 towards enforcement, including $88,000 for a new officer to assist the one already on staff.

The HCHBA and others have also pushed to delay the changes until after the pandemic is over to allow for an in-person public meeting. But Coun. Brent Devolin said he opposed that because the pandemic could linger for the rest of the term.

“For us to delay it because of COVID … I don’t think (the bylaw) will be dealt with in this term of council and I think that would truly be a mistake,” he said.

However, deputy warden Patrick Kennedy said they should hit a pause button on the document and it is not yet good enough to move forward.

“I’m not in anybody’s back pocket on this. I am as much in love with the water as anybody at this table or in this County,” he said. “I don’t feel this bylaw is at that stage yet, to the point it can be taken out to the public for comment. I fully endorse a step back … I feel like we have lost the public trust on both sides of the issue.”

Kennedy suggested an external consultation group or committee examine the document, but Coun. Carol Moffatt pushed back on that.

“Ultimately, it’s our job as the people who are elected to listen to the public,” Moffatt said. “Our problem right now is, I think, all the noise that’s out there. We can’t address the misinformation without a competing information campaign, and we can’t do that without dedicated resources.”

She added council needed to provide input into what is going out to the public and what questions will be asked.

Danielsen said people should be more specific about what parts of the bylaw should be addressed, which she said it not being seen in messages lately.

“We’re hearing a lot from all angles and we need to work hard to try and get it right.”

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