By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County councillors are in the midst of making a decision wherein they’re essentially tasked with weighing environmental benefits against economic ones, amid what for the county, is a backdrop of public pressure.
A few dozen representatives of the local construction industry attended a county committee-of-the-whole meeting earlier this month to hear a discussion regarding the creation of an enhanced shoreline protection bylaw. For anyone who’s never attended a Haliburton County council meeting, most of the seats in the public gallery are empty most of the time, so that level of attendance indicates substantial public interest in something.
While Haliburton County has had a shoreline tree preservation bylaw – restricting the cutting of trees within 30 metres of the high-water mark – since 2012, the new draft shoreline protection bylaw entails heightened protections including that of all vegetation within the same shoreline band, along with stricter regulating of site alterations and other restrictions.
The bylaw’s impetus is the protection of lake health, working toward the goal of 75 per cent natural shoreline/shoreline containing native vegetative growth. That is the threshold that has been identified by the Coalition of Haliburton County Property Owners’ Associations required to ensure that lake health doesn’t decline, and according to the CHA, currently, just less than half of the shoreline throughout Haliburton County is natural.
The CHA and its board chairman Paul MacInnes have done substantial work regarding healthy shorelines during the past decade, MacInnes often attending council meetings around the county to sound the alarm about the dangers posed by declining lake health. Erosion, phosphorous loading, calcium depletion – all of these risk factors can be mitigated through the maintenance of natural shorelines, and the CHA has been advocating for the creation of such a bylaw the county has now created in draft form. Haliburton County’s nearly 600 lakes are the foundation of everything in the community, and should those lakes begin to die . . . well, the party is over.
Builders, meanwhile, are concerned the regulations laid out in the draft bylaw are too strict and that they will hurt business, including eliminating jobs, as well as make the county an undesirable location to purchase a property.
“The concern with the draft, as with many things in life, is the fear of the unknown,” Keith Thomas, Haliburton County Home Builders’ Association president and owner of Francis Thomas Contracting Company Ltd, told the paper last week. “As the draft covers a broad spectrum of activities that would be limited within the defined shoreline, potential impacts could range from the loss of jobs to considerable fluctuations in realty markets.”
Construction is the No. 1 employer in the county, which is one of the poorest communities in the province. The issue is a contentious one, leaving county councillors in the somewhat unenviable position of trying to take meaningful action to protect lake health without stifling the community’s biggest and most important industry.