Chelsea, Que. is cracking down on wayward docks along the Gatineau River. The municipality, which is a half hour drive north of Ottawa, announced that it would be introducing a new bylaw for private docks on municipal land starting April 15, with three different scenarios for dock owners.
The Gatineau River, which runs 386 kilometres from northern Quebec down to Gatineau, borders the east side of Chelsea. Hydro-Québec owned much of the land along the river near Chelsea until January 2020 when the municipality purchased 1.89 million square metres of waterfront property from the power company for $47,426.
“Hydro-Québec didn’t really manage or care about shoreline usage,” says Rita Jain, the municipal councillor for Chelsea’s river ward. “So, there were things, like docks, permitted that wouldn’t be now…It’s a tradition that’s been going on for many, many decades.”
The new bylaw’s three scenarios for dock owners cover the different categories of docks in the area. The first two scenarios involve owners whose properties are divided from their docks by Voie Verte, a biking and walking trail that runs along the river, or Chemin de la Rivière, a municipal road that runs along the river. These owners will have to apply for a dock permit—costing around $400 annually. If the dock meets the criteria of being connected to a private property, the owners will be allowed to keep it.
The third scenario is dock owners who don’t own adjacent property. These include “road docks,” a dock that’s been installed by a private citizen or community group that serves a personal use. These docks were put in under Hydro-Québec’s lax stewardship, with some having been in place for upwards of 40 years. However, since these docks don’t correspond to a property, the Chelsea council has determined that they must be removed or converted into municipal docks managed by the town and open to all residents of Chelsea.
The municipality will conduct an analysis of these docks and determine whether they’re fit to be converted into municipal docks. Staff will ensure eligible docks don’t impact the surrounding ecosystem, don’t infringe on nearby private properties, and are safe to use. Docks that don’t meet the criteria will be removed by the municipality or the owners.
“It’s a way of life here,” Jain says. “People have moved here because of the river and some families have been here for multiple decades, multiple generations even. To be told that they can’t have their dock is devastating.”
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During a council meeting on December 6, Jain proposed an amendment to the dock bylaw that would allow nine “road docks” to remain private. She estimated that approximately 300 community members used these docks and would be losing private access to the river. But council voted against her with mayor Pierre Guénard saying that the council had to serve all Chelsea residents, not just a specific few.
As part of roadwork being done along Chemin de la Rivière, a number of docks have already received notices saying they must be removed to make room for construction. Jain says many of these docks won’t be put back in in the spring because they won’t qualify for a permit.
The roadwork includes a new guardrail along the river to make the road safer. Initially, the municipality said it was going to charge residents with private docks $6,000 each to cut access points in the guardrail. However, after a February 20 meeting, the municipality has agreed to cut access points for free as long as the dock qualifies for a permit.
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The municipality’s plan for its new dock bylaw will roll out over the next five years. In spring 2023, Chelsea will conduct a shoreline inspection of private land. In summer 2024, it will conduct a shoreline inspection of municipal land, including private docks. Over the winter of 2025-2026, council will determine which private docks will become municipal docks. And in summer 2027, the municipality will remove any unlicensed docks on municipal land.
Chelsea says it won’t accept permit applications until it’s completed its analysis and inventory of existing docks.
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