Irreparable damage is being done to Haliburton County’s shorelines.
In part, it is because County councillors have so far failed to pass a shoreline preservation bylaw.
While the County does have a shoreline tree preservation bylaw, it has its shortcomings.
That is abundantly clear when reading a report from the County’s forestry conservation and County weed inspector, James Rogers.
He reported a 60 per cent increase in activity in 2021.
That jump on 2020 included 82 site visits, six fines, 12 stop work orders and nine work orders for restoration. Let’s compare that to 2020 when there were 52 site visits, five fines, and three stop work orders.
Since it’s a complaints-driven bylaw, this is stuff that was reported by a third-party to the County. Someone noticed a clear-cut, for example, and called it in. After the fact. We can only speculate it is a tip of the iceberg situation. How many infractions are occurring that are not reported?
By then, the damage is done. As Rogers told council, it can decades for corrupted shorelines to be returned to a natural state.
And while the County has the power to stop work, issue fines and demand restoration, there are issues with that, too.
Rogers said they have the potential in the bylaw to issue fines of $100,000, but that has never happened. The norm is $930 fines although there can be costly re-plantings.
However, there are not enough staff to catch the bad apples and the fines are hardly a deterrent to someone determined to cut trees to ensure a million-dollar view to go along with that million-dollar cottage. It’s become a case of cut first, hope you don’t get caught, if you do, pay a paltry fine, fix it up and be done with it.
In his report, Rogers also pointed out a number of things that are not covered under the existing bylaw. They include what he called unsightly shoreline issues, such as trees cleared for new buildings and trees taken down in the past that were not reported. Then there’s landscaping work that may not involve the removal of trees, but does take out greenery, shrubs and other vegetation. It looks ugly from the lake. And it compromises lake health.
Rogers said it also means that someone going by on our many lakes and rivers might presume the bylaw is not being enforced. We can understand where that perception comes from.
Coun. Andrea Roberts asked if it was a case of people not knowing about the existing bylaw or ignoring it. Rogers suggested it was both.
No one talked about the fact people might be trying to rush work through in anticipation of a future shoreline preservation bylaw.
Warden Liz Danielsen told Rogers he has a challenging job especially around tree preservation and it was looking like County council wasn’t going to make his job any easier as it looks like it won’t be passing the shoreline preservation bylaw this term.
She’s right. Council is making Rogers’ job extremely hard. But far worse, its decision to delay the file is causing decades-long damage to our shorelines, and consequently, our lake health.