People shared concerns, ideas and visions for lake protection at the first of two shoreline bylaw open houses July 29.

The Zoom meeting was the first-time members of the public, as opposed to private and public stakeholder organizations, had an opportunity to speak to County of Haliburton-hired planners Hutchinson Environmental and J.L Richards.

The two companies have been contracted to review a draft bylaw and submit recommendations to council for a final policy document in October.

For more than a year, it’s proved a divisive topic: some consider its rules too far reaching and restrictive, while others say it’s only a first step in protecting lake health.

“Council has heard many of these comments loud and clear, as well as some confusion about the original guidelines that were proposed,” Warden Liz Danielsen said, as the meeting kicked off.

All who spoke said healthy lakes were important. However, views diverged on whether a proposed 30-metre no development zone was the most efficient or realistic way to protect water quality.

Speakers such as Susan Hay, who represented Environment Haliburton! said 30-metres is a must. Hay said her home was made uninhabitable after blue-green algae, often caused by septic systems and stormwater runoff, polluted her water supply. It cost $30,000 to switch to a well system.

Hay said strict development rules such as the draft bylaw “reduce erosion and protect our lakes and the fish, birds and wildlife that inhabit them, and the people who enjoy the lakes.”

Others argued the County should target issues that are equally, and more, important than restricting the space between a development and lakes.

“In terms of water quality, the single greatest threat is improperly functioning septic tanks,” said Tayce Wakefield, a Kennisis Lake property owner who’s coordinated with 20 nearby residents to navigate development rules. She reports a recent inspection program on Kennisis Lake showed over one quarter of all septic systems failed.

“Clearly this shows that a full pumpout septic inspection program should be the first priority to protect our water.”

Property rights

Many who spoke said the proposed bylaw is inappropriately restrictive and general.

“Owners feel like they’re totally losing control of their properties, particularly if it’s 30 metres,” said Bill Missen, a director of the Maple, Beech and Cameron Lakes Area Property Owners’ Association.

Missen said he doubted the County has the capacity to enforce the bylaw. Current regulations – such as the tree preservation bylaw — are often bypassed with no repercussions, he alleged.

“I think it’s unfortunately going to go back to neighbours policing neighbours.”

He explained how reporting lake residents for building infractions decreases the sense of “comaraderie” the lake community enjoys.

Carson MacDonald, owner of the Dock Shop in Minden Hills, said the proposed rules are too general to put into practice.

“It’s a one size fits all bylaw. But it can’t address the countless variables we address daily,” he said, mentioning how property size, landscaping and more determine suitable development.

“Every shoreline is different — every customers’ needs are different.”

Similarly, Wakefield of Kennisis Lake said the proposed approach doesn’t account for specific lakes and their unique environmental characteristics.

“For the large proportion of lakes that are near or above the objectives of the bylaw such as Kennisis, establishing a 30 metre ‘no-go zone’ represents an unwarranted reduction in property rights where there is no acute problem to address,“said Wakefield. She recommended rules which make accommodations for different sized lots and the needs of individual lakes.

Deb Wratschko, president of the Kennisis Lake Cottage Owners’ Association, said the existing draft needs to be explained clearly.

“The draft bylaw is written in bylaw language, which most people don’t take the time to read or fully understand,” Wratschko said.

“In order for our members to provide thoughtful feedback they need to know and understand what the bylaw is, why it’s necessary, what is in it, and how it will affect them. We need a “Coles notes” version directly from the people drafting the bylaw to support meaningful discussion and feedback.”

More than 500 people had viewed the town hall as of July 30. It’s now available to watch on the County’s YouTube channel.

A second town hall will take place at a yet undetermined date.

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