Water Access – GBA Primer
Seventy-nine percent of GBA Members own water access only properties. With the current crisis low water levels many cottagers will have challenges gaining direct access to their properties. GBA has been working with local municipalities as well as the Province (specifically Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) and the Federal government as the rules and regulations around dock size and placement and lakebed alterations are reviewed in order to enable continued use of properties during this low water crisis. The following is a summary of what we have learned.
It may be that you need to move your existing dock or to build an extension on your existing dock in order to continue to have access to your property. Given the fluctuating water levels, it would be advisable to consider using floating docks. These are also less impactful to the lakebed. Approvals of size, number and placement of docks is principally a Municipal responsibility. Each Municipality has its own rules; these are outlined in a Comprehensive Zoning By-law. We are aware that most Municipalities along the Georgian Bay have recognized the emergency nature of the current water levels situation and have taken steps to relax their regulations, at least on a one-time, time limited basis, so as to accommodate their ratepayers’ needs. You should contact your Township’s or Municipality’s Building Department to discuss your specific situation. If extensions and/or relocation of docks are necessary, you will likely be required to consult with your neighbours so you may wish to initiate those discussions prior to meeting with the Building Department officials.
Should you need to dredge or blast the lake bed to restore access to your property you will need to make an application to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for a Shorelands Work Permit. A copy of the required forms can be found on the Township of the Archipelago’s web site at; http://www.thearchipelago.on.ca (click on “dredging” link).
The application requires the applicant to provide as much detailed information as possible, including:
– Location map
Sketches of proposed project
Summer photographs of project site
Municipal Comment Form
MNR has been working hard to streamline the application process in recognition of the urgency and need to react to the crisis situation. It should be noted that MNR is specifically sensitive to applications that are to facilitate access to properties (ie a channel between a dock and open water). Broader applications to dredge entire back bays or even move rocks along coastlines for aesthetic purposes would require more scrutiny and time delays.
In the experience of the author, who applied for a Work Permit for dredging, it took one week to prepare the application including assembling pictures, drawing sketches, securing comments from neighbours and having the Municipality sign off on the application. It then took MNR 4 weeks to process the application including getting comments from the Federal Department of Fisheries. The approval came with multiple conditions attached including;
– The need to use in-water sediment control fences to contain silt to the site
Dredged materials to be deposited so as to not re-enter water body
No harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat
Relocation of rocks, stumps or logs to adjacent area fronting property
If dredging occurs before May 1, there must be a dedicated person to observe the dredging at all times to recover and immerse any unearthed turtles in a cold water bath
MNR identified an ideal window for this dredging project so as to avoid potential contravention of the Endangered Species Act. This window is between July 16th and August 31st.
The phone numbers for the three MNR offices that cover southern Georgian Bay are: Midhurst 705-725-7500; Parry Sound 705-746-4201; and Sudbury 705-564-7823. All are well equipped to answer your questions and guide you through the application process.
The next challenge is to find a contractor who has the equipment and time to carry out the work that you hope to have approved. Your Township Building Department should be able to offer some suggestions regarding who does this type of work in your area.
The sooner you get your approval and join the queue with a contractor the better.
Cost of Projects and Sharing of Information
The cost for dredging or blasting will be very site specific but will likely be significant. Even moving or extending docks will not be inexpensive.
GBA would like to keep track of how many properties undergo site alterations so that we can add these numbers and costs to an ongoing analysis that we are doing on the financial impact of low water levels. We will share this cumulative information with our elected officials as support for our argument that a more permanent remedy to low water levels is warranted.
Simply put, we feel that spending money on adaptive management to keep harbours and channels open in the face of ever falling water levels is fool’s game. Governments should spend some money on possible longer-term remedies such as control mechanisms in the connecting channels between the Great Lakes.