The public debate on the County’s shoreline bylaw is picking up again with a new campaign advocating for naturalized shorelines.

Beshore Haliburton kicked off an advertising blitz April 15 with a website and information about the issue. The aim is to educate about the importance of shorelines to protect lake health and prevent toxic algae blooms, as well as amassing names for a petition.

It comes as the County has delayed a bylaw to limit development on shorelines, sending out a request for proposals March 24 to have a third-party consultant take over the work. Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Association (CHA) president Paul MacInnes – one of the people behind Beshore Haliburton – said advocates wanted to address the situation.

“When the County decided to pause work on the shoreline preservation bylaw, after almost three years of working on it, a number of us became very concerned,” MacInnes said. “We’re losing the little bit of natural shoreline that we have left very quickly.”

The draft bylaw attracted pushback from the Haliburton County Home Builders Association, local landscapers and some property owners who felt it was too far-reaching. Other organizations such as the CHA and Environment Haliburton! advocated for the tougher rules as something needed to preserve lakes and ensure that property values do not crash from algae blooms.

MacInnes said the dialogue got personal, with uninvolved members of his own family getting targeted by individuals opposing the bylaw. He said the tactics prompted the campaign to keep most of its members – which he said is more than 100 people – anonymous.

“I’m not worried about the CHA and myself being targeted,” he said. “I’m worried about the people and organizations that are part of the campaign that have not already been targeted.”

The Beshore Haliburton website includes links to government and scientific sources around buffer zones in a bid to highlight why the proposed setback for most development in the bylaw – 30 metres from high-water marks – is the correct figure. But the campaign has raised questions about timing.

Michele Bromley of Boshkung Lake Tree Service, part of a group of six landscaping companies that opposed the bylaw as initially drafted in 2020, said Beshore Haliburton seems premature given the County’s RFP process.

“We should just be waiting for the council to do their job and get this RFP done,” Bromley said. “Why are the waters being muddied?

“We feel like we’ve been dragged back into this fight again,” she added. “It’s just totally inappropriate.”

County council has signalled it does not expect to have the bylaw in place for this year’s summer building season as they originally planned. The County said it expects to have a report on proposals back at the May 12 committee of the whole meeting and the consultant will produce a new bylaw for council consideration in the summer.

But MacInnes said he hopes the bylaw can get into place sooner to prevent further destruction. He added the campaign is trying to take a positive approach and also encourage landowners to renaturalize their lakefront.

“We’re taking, very much, the high road,” he said. “This is not about personalities or individuals, this is about protecting the health of our community, which depends on healthy lakes.”

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