County council was told July 28 that activity under its shoreline tree preservation bylaw “increased” over previous years in 2020 and has “significantly increased” so far in 2021.

Director of planning, Steve Stone, tabled the report to the meeting – a day before a virtual open house on the proposed shoreline preservation bylaw.

The County’s forestry and bylaw officer, James Rogers, said that in 2020, there were 52 site visits, five fines and three stop work orders.

From Jan. 1 to July 15 this year, he said there were already 45 site visits with four fines, eight stop work orders and seven work orders for remediation to address issues from 2020.

“The majority of site visits result in preconsultation, education, warnings, followups regarding previous issues, and findings of compliance with tree cutting under the exemptions listed,” Rogers said.

Asked by The Highlander for statistics prior to 2020, Stone said that tracking of occurrences by the bylaw officer only began in 2020 so there is no comparable data for the years 2018 and 2019.

However, he said the forester noted in a 2019 report that since March 31, 2018, there were 26 site visits regarding complaints as well as frequent requests for pre-consultation. At that time, he said compliance with the bylaw was good in most cases. During that period, two fines were levied for $930 each, two stop work orders issued and two work orders issued to restore trees within shoreline areas.

In the case of monetary penalties, Stone said they are set fines for part 1 provincial offences act tickets set by the Court and in the County’s case it was set at $800 plus their administrative costs that add up to $930.

During the meeting, Coun. Andrea Roberts said she’s heard about a few cases of infractions in Dysart. She said at a time when there is a lot of public information about the shoreline tree preservation bylaw and the pending shoreline preservation bylaw and lake health, it is “very disheartening and it’s being abused or it’s being ignored.”

Coun. Carol Moffatt asked about the attitude of people that Rogers is dealing with. She added she knows there are far more transgressions occurring than reported which statistically makes it look like the County does not have a problem, but it does. She said damage is evident from the water.

Rogers said there are a range of attitudes. He said some are contrite, others have been stealthful and some are tough to deal with.

He added, “Maybe there’s more eyes on things and a heightened awareness, versus shoreline clearing gone wild.”

In an interview with The Highlander earlier this month, Warden Liz Danielsen said there were “more and more” cases of people clear cutting their waterfront in advance of the County’s proposed shoreline preservation bylaw. She said the instances reaffirm the importance of not only getting the new bylaw in place as soon as possible, but of the need for education about what may or may not be done and why.

“There have been other indications of what is often a careless disregard for the health of our lakes and, as a result, what may come in terms of enforcement,” she said.

Haliburton County Home Builders Association vice-president Glenn Evans said the rules are relatively clear as far as what you can and can’t cut under the bylaw.

However, “the fact people that aren’t in the industry don’t necessarily know about those bylaws, how do you address that?

He said The County does not publicize its rules and regulations very well to make the public aware.

“I think that’s a lot of the problem. Maybe they need a campaign in spring, when construction is ramping up, to make sure people abide by bylaws, and know they are part of the rules and regulations around here,”

He said in some cases new cottage builders or renovators know the rules but are not following them.

“There is the potential that would happen. Joe Blow homeowner wants a view, cuts trees, pays a fine, which at $930 is not a whole bunch of a deterrent, and then plants trees where he wants them.”

He added while the finger is being pointed at new properties and new cottage builders, “people moving into existing cottages are doing the same thing.”

There will be a virtual open house on the proposed shoreline preservation bylaw between 6 and 8 p.m. July 29.

Get The Highlander in your inbox every Thursday