Two County environmentalists have slammed Dysart et al’s recently approved site alteration bylaw for lacking teeth, potentially “leaving the back door wide open” for waterfront property owners to alter their shoreline.
Leora Berman, an environmental and hydrological technologist, and COO of local non-profit The Land Between, has labelled the legislation – approved and adopted by Dysart council last month – as “smoke and mirrors.” She claims the new bylaw does nothing to protect lakes, shorelines, and wildlife.
Karl Korpela, Dysart’s chief building official, brought a proposed bylaw to council in April. He said the intent was to establish clear restrictions on what property owners can and cannot do on land fronting water and environmentally protected (EP) areas. Dysart council had previously refused to adopt, and enforce, a shoreline preservation bylaw approved by County council, and accepted by the three other local townships, earlier this year.
The Dysart bylaw includes a 30-metre buffer zone for most new development on the water, which Korpela confirmed is consistent with the County’s tree preservation bylaw.
Fearrey says bylaw a ‘work in progress’
There are some exemptions – structures like clothes poles, gates, retaining walls, stairways, small decks and patios (up to 20 square metres), fences less than 1.2 metres high, and water intake lines, are allowed.
It allows homeowners to clear a five-metre path to provide access to the water, though only on land not adjacent to a fish habitat or EP zone. No site alteration is permitted on waterfront lots adjacent to fish habitats, while changes are restricted to a 1.5-metrewide stairway, walkway, or boardwalk in EP zones, providing there’s limited impact to native vegetation.
The bylaw also requires property owners who have made changes to undeveloped lots without prior approval to restore them using native vegetation. Developed lots have been grandfathered into the new rules.
There are several recommendations outlined for homeowners to follow should they decide to alter their waterfront and be eligible to do so. Any retaining wall within 30-metres of the high water mark needs to be regularly maintained, while any slope within an altered area should be maintained to protect from erosion.
Any drainage pipe from a home or other structure that extends towards the shoreline can be no longer than 2.5 metres long and must discharge onto rock, gabion stone, or similar surface to further protect land from erosion.
There must also be no impact on neighbouring properties, particularly relating to water run off due to an increasing grade elevation or diversion of drainage.
The bylaw is to be managed by Dysart in-house, with staff to follow up on complaints. Korpela said the primary focus would be to educate offenders on the new rules, with fines levied for repeat offenders. Most infractions carry a maximum fine of $700.
Berman feels there needs to be more clarity provided on EP rules, saying they are clearly outlined in the provincial policy statement as being significant wildlife habitat, or flood zone hazard lands. “Dysart is missing that whole piece,” Berman said.
She was also critical of the “laughably low” fines outlined.
“A $700 fine is not prohibitive. Most people are just going to factor that into the cost of their project, it won’t prevent anything,” Berman said. She noted most bylaws protecting shorelines and EP zones carry five, and sometimes even six figure fines for the most flagrant offenders.
The County’s policy says any person charged with contravening its shoreline preservation bylaw be fined up to $50,000 for a first offence, and up to $100,000 for each subsequent offence.
Paul MacInnes, chair of the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Association, has long lobbied for greater protection of County shorelands. He played a key role in relaying public opinion during the County’s process and while not 100 per cent satisfied with where the upper-tier landed, he feels that document is much stronger than Dysart’s.
He criticized council’s decision to roll out a bylaw based on recommendations and guidelines for shoreline work, rather than introducing a permit system that would require homeowners to seek municipal approval before proceeding with major projects.
“Permit-based systems are fair and let everyone know up front what you can and cannot do – there would be no chance for people to apply their own definitions of the rules, or be confused in any way. It would either be a yes, or no from the municipality” MacInnes said. “It would also make it way easier to level any fine.”
Dysart mayor Murray Fearrey admitted the fines outlined in Dysart’s policy are low but noted that was by design. He said his council wanted to focus more on educating, rather than punishing, offenders. For those that do continue to skirt the rules, he suggested the township’s bylaw officials could hand down a series of fines.
“There would be additional charges any time we have to follow up with a property on an issue. It wouldn’t just be a single $700 fine – it would be $700 for each offence, and another fine any time our staff has to go out,” he said.
The mayor acknowledged the bylaw “isn’t perfect” but was a good starting point.
“The intent was to make it simple but try to make it effective. There will be amendments. As we find fault, we’ll correct it. That’s what bylaws are for,” he said.
Next up for Dysart council, Fearrey said, is establishing a township-specific tree preservation bylaw.
“That, to me, is a big one where the fines are a joke. We saw an issue on Drag Lake where the person was fined $750 after cutting down every tree on the property, and replacing them with little wee shrubs… that’s a real problem. I think we can put some teeth into a bylaw of our own. I’d like to see heavier fines there,” Fearrey said. “I’d be in favour of $10,000 or $20,000 fines, depending on the damage.”
He said council would discuss the issue in the new year.
MacInnes said he was concerned that Dysart seems to be separating itself from the rest of the County.
“We worked so hard as a community over the past four years to bring all four municipalities together and have consistent rules County-wide. This whole business of one municipality doing something different than the rest is so incredibly wasteful. It’s difficult for people to live with,” MacInnes said. “On one side of Lake Kashagawigamog, you have Minden Hills residents dealing with the County bylaw, while on the other side you have Dysart residents dealing with the Dysart bylaw. How confusing must that be, for contractors and for property owners?”
Berman said she will continue with her petition calling for Dysart to update the bylaw. She said The Land Between would also be publishing educational material on its website to help waterfront property owners understand the implications of altering any shoreland.
“We will have mapping models so that if someone wants to fill in a wetland, cut down trees, or get rid of native vegetation, you can click on your property and find out what those changes would do,” Berman said. “We need to do something, because what’s out there right now just isn’t enough.”