Nowhere to turn: Jack Lake cottagers alone in storm cleanup

Jack Lake cottagers continue to face storm cleanup struggles after the devastating May 21 storm. They say they have no financial support from local municipalities, the provincial government, or insurance companies, and have turned to the community for help.

Pat Phillips is a cottager on Jack Lake who’s feeling defeated by the lack of support for storm clean up from the Township of North Kawartha, the Ontario government, and her insurance company. Transfer centres, locations where people can take their storm debris and brush, are the only option available, but Phillips says they’re inaccessible due to the amount of trees and debris that cottagers have to move. Paul Campbell, another cottage owner on Jack Lake, agrees. He says that it would have taken him 25 two-hour round trips to remove the 19 fallen trees and all the brush. This wouldn’t include the time it would take to clean up the property, as well as to load and prepare the trailer for safe transportation. “From May 21 to June 20, I worked every day. I am still continuing the cleanup efforts on both my property and my neighbour’s property. I even had to hire a contractor to remove the debris from the end of my driveway,” Campbell says. 

“We cottagers recognize that owners must clean up their own properties. However, it would have been helpful to have a roadside pick-up option, just as they did in the City of Peterborough,” says Phillips.

Both Campbell and Phillips are worried that the brush and debris could cause wildfire risks, since their properties fall within high-risk fire areas according to the newly developed County of Peterborough official plan

While Bancroft Minden Forest Co. is contracted by the province to remove fallen trees on Crown land, Campbell has asked the company to also remove the larger trees from private property, because it is too difficult for owners to do so without expensive rental equipment. He is still awaiting a response. 

“The storm ripped off a bandaid of a larger issue. Cottagers are being left behind,” Campbell says. 

“Cottagers had to find a solution themselves. When the storm first hit, we were rallying together for cleanup efforts that are still going on today. That’s the spirit I’d like to see from the township,” says Phillips.

Municipal response 

In terms of cottage-specific support, both Jim Martin, the mayor of Havelock-Belmont-Methuen, and Alana Solman, the chief administrative officer of the Township of North Kawartha, say that transfer centres are the best solution they can offer. “There wasn’t a lot we could do for private roads other than give them a place to leave brush,” says Martin. “We’re working with the province to see if we can get help. Clean up is costing us a fortune.” 

Both municipalities have been in contact with the provincial government. “They sent a team a week and a half after the storm. On July 15, we submitted a request to have both the Municipal Disaster Assistance Recovery program and the Disaster Recovery Assistance of Ontario program activated,” says Solman. “We recommend keeping photo and expense records, in case the programs open,” she says. 

The Township of North Kawartha considered roadside pick up, but decided it would be a fire hazard. Martin did not consider roadside pick up because the township has over 110 private roads. Both officials inquired about using Crown land for transfer sites, but weren’t successful in gaining approval from the province.

In response to the wildfire concern, both Martin and Solman explored this concern with their respective emergency management teams and fire departments. The situation will continue to be monitored.

Solman encourages residents to express their specific concerns to municipalities and the province. “I can’t respond unless I know what cottagers are asking for. The township is responsible for cleaning up 14 closed roads and making sure they are free of debris. We still have a lot to clean up,” she says. 

Provincial response

Twenty Provincial Disaster Assessment Teams assessed damages from the May 21 storm. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing completed the assessment and activated DRAO in certain areas.

The ministry encourages both townships to track expenditures and apply for MDRA if they meet the expenditure threshold. 

Like the municipalities, the province recommends that cottage owners contact their insurance providers. Secondary residences are not covered because, “the DRAO program provides financial assistance to individuals, small businesses, farmers, and not-for-profit organizations that have experienced damage to or loss of essential property as a result of a natural disaster,” says the MMAH.

Response from insurance companies 

Neither Phillips nor Campbell submitted an insurance claim because property cleanup was not covered under their policies. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, “damage caused by wind is typically covered by home, commercial property and comprehensive auto insurance policies“. However, as IBC explains, “property insurance is not regulated. Each insurance company determines specifics and policy coverage.” It is up to each individual affected by the storm to call their insurance agencies. For example, under Canadian insurance agency Desjardin’s policies, “property damage coverage is dependent on circumstance and policy. Removal isn’t covered.”

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