StephenVance 270Some windy weather over the weekend offered us a reminder of how vulnerable our shoreline areas are as long as water levels remain high.

During a period of heavy rain the winds kicked up, bringing large waves crashing into Meaford's shoreline. The Bayfield Street area between the museum and Fred Raper Park was once again pummelled by rocks and other debris brought ashore by those waves.

The parking lot at Fred Raper Park was littered with rocks and driftwood, as was the walkway along the waterfront. For me, it once again raised a question that I have grappled with for many months: what should we really be doing when it comes to our shoreline parks?

Many have been understandably frustrated with the lack of access to the shoreline parks this summer, and many have expressed a desire to see the parks, particularly Fred Raper Park, which features playground equipment, a public washroom, and a gazebo for shelter when needed or desired, returned to their previous state, but is that wise?

Back in March Council was presented with four options for addressing the obvious needs of these two parks, and the recommended option was that the parks be naturalized at a cost of roughly $50,000. Naturalizing the parks would mean pulling out all playground equipment and returning the land to its natural state.

By naturalizing the two parks the municipality could buy some time to wait out the high water levels and to develop a long-term strategy. Council however, answered the call of residents and instead opted to spend a little more money in order to return the parks to their previous condition. While the remediation of the parks has been delayed by a combination of the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic along with a much higher than anticipated cost once the bids were received, some work will soon begin that will allow us to limp through this season.

In March I suggested that Council's decision, while perhaps not the wisest decision, was likely the best solution based on the expressed desires of many residents. This weekend's not overly powerful winds brought the question back to my mind – what truly is the right thing to do?

As staff reminded Council back in March, “Any remediation in these two parks can and will be affected by the current and future water levels in Georgian Bay. This could affect the activities in the parks and could lead to the closure of the area. This will put additional pressure on other waterfront access areas and other parks,” staff noted in their report. Staff also offered a warning to Council that, “There is potential that any funding spent on remediation in these areas could be washed away with significant storm surge or continued increases in lake levels.”

I fully understand, appreciate, and accept the desire expressed by many residents for the return of full use of these parks, playground equipment and all, but is that really the right course at this stage?

When the bids finally came in for the full remediation of the parks, the quotes were hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the $80,000 that Council had approved, and as a result limited work will be done this season in order to address the most pressing concerns. But before we jump into spending hundreds of thousands more next year, I think we need to think long and hard, and consider the potential for another storm undoing what has been done and wasting all of the money spent.

I think it would be a horrible shame if we over the next year were to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into these parks only to have a big storm undo it all next year. At the same time I recognize the value of these parks not only to residents but for visitors to this community, so the question is whether the gamble is worth it.

Personally, I still feel that the wise decision would be to naturalize these two parks for the time being, and then to develop a long-term strategy while we wait out the high water levels, which some recent reports suggest might be nearing their peak level this year. With the parks naturalized, should the water level begin to drop and we have a well-developed long-term strategy in place, perhaps then we could consider a larger investment and the return of amenities like playground equipment.

I know it is far from the preferred choice, but in the long run it might be wise to sacrifice full use now in order to allow the time and funding to properly remediate these parks for the years to come.

As I wrote back in March however, I concede that the wise solution isn't always the best solution.

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