Haliburton County is introducing a new bylaw to maintain healthy shorelines in the area. The county council passed the bylaw, known as the shoreline preservation bylaw, during a meeting on the morning of August 24.
The bylaw creates a 20-metre horizontal buffer zone along the shorelines of all lakes, rivers, and wetlands in Haliburton County. Under the bylaw, property owners will be required to obtain a site alteration permit from the county if they want to complete any major landscaping or building projects within that buffer zone. This includes altering the topography of the shoreline by more than a metre in height, rebuilding any structures over a metre tall (such as a retaining wall), or removing more than 25 per cent of native vegetation and trees from the shoreline.
Director of planning Steve Stone did clarify during the meeting that minor landscaping activities, such as creating a flower bed, removing less than a metre of topsoil, rebuilding a retaining wall shorter than a metre in height, and constructing a driveway or path less than five metres in width through the buffer zone, won’t require a permit.
Stone also explained that if a property owner wanted to build a structure that infringed on the buffer zone, such as an addition to the cottage or a deck, they would have to apply for a building permit. If the building permit were approved, it would override the shoreline preservation bylaw.
The goal of the bylaw is to act as a preventative measure; preserving the quality of water within the community. While all stakeholders agree that lake health is a priority, this bylaw has been batted around since 2017, receiving its share of community backlash.
During a July 29, 2021, virtual open house organized by Hutchinson Environmental Sciences Ltd. and J.L. Richards & Associates Ltd.—consultants hired by Haliburton County to conduct an independent review of the bylaw document—a number of citizens voiced concerns.
“Some lakefront property owners feel threatened by this bylaw,” said Bill Missen, a director with the Maple, Beech, and Cameron Lakes Area Property Owners’ Association, during the open house. “Owners are feeling they’re totally losing control of their property.”
Missen added that the expansion of the shoreline buffer zone, which was previously three metres, limits what an owner can do on their property. He also questioned how the county planned to police the bylaw, especially when it has nearly 1,000 bodies of water.
Dave Love, a cottager on Haliburton Lake, questioned the need for new legislation. “From what I have learned, the main objective here is to achieve shorelines classified as 75 per cent naturalized or regenerated, and by doing so that will help maintain high water quality, prevent algae blooms, and prevent the risk of eroding shorelines and flooding,” Love said. “Proposing this bylaw…suggests to me that Haliburton’s lakes and shorelines are in such a state of deterioration as to require urgent government attention to save them from serious harm. I have searched for evidence of [this], but have been unable to find any.”
Love cited a 2019 lake health report from the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations that stated 60 of Haliburton’s largest lakes had nearly achieved 75 per cent naturalized shorelines already.
The consultants and county staff took this feedback into consideration when drafting the most recent version of the bylaw. Yet, council members still had questions during the August 24 council meeting. Coun. Cecil Ryall pointed out that the differentiation between projects that required a permit and projects that didn’t require a permit remained unclear in the current bylaw draft.
In response, Stone suggested that if a property owner is concerned about violating the bylaw, they should call the planning department before they start digging. Stone also said that the department plans to create a website devoted to the shoreline preservation bylaw, which will include more concrete examples of what does and doesn’t require a permit, photo examples of healthy shorelines, the types of materials you should be using for projects in that buffer zone, and education material on appropriate types of trees and vegetation you can plant along your shoreline.
The bylaw is scheduled to take effect on April 1, 2023. Any projects started before that date won’t require a permit. After April 1, the fee for a site alteration permit will cost $100, and it will be up to county staff to approve the application. Stone said that to avoid tying up contractors and hindering work, staff will aim to approve site alteration permits within two weeks of being submitted.
To police the bylaw, Haliburton County plans to hire three new compliance monitoring and enforcement officers devoted to the area’s shorelines. The county estimates that it will cost around $200,000 a year to sustain the bylaw.
Minor infractions of the bylaw will cost culprits $930. A major infraction, however, could result in a court appearance with fines ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 depending on the amount of damage to the shoreline. Plus, the property owner will likely have to pay to replant the trees and vegetation taken down.
“The permit system,” Stone said, “is just an element of the greater thing that the council wants to achieve, which is healthy shorelines.”