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Differing opinions on local beach maintenance ... are Piping Plovers actually the saviors of our beaches?

July 28, 2015

Town Council

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While residents have differing opinions on how local beaches should be maintained, Saugeen Shores council members and staff are also looking at the situation.

Some residents want more grooming of the beaches through methods such as grading with heavy equipment.

One key in the puzzle however, is the protection of a portion of Port Elgin beach because it is now recognized as a nesting area for the endangered Piping Plover and, in fact, is only one of five nesting sites on the Great Lakes in Ontario.

Provincial statutes protect any area where plovers have nested and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects that habitat for one kilometre around a nest.

The protection means that there is to be no beach raking or other activities that would damage habitat by removing natural materials such as driftwood and vegetation vital for the plovers' survival.

The Ministry of Natural Resources & Fisheries (MNRF) recently congratulated Saugeen Shores and the Port Elgin community for improving the ecosystem health and for conserving sensitive beach ecosystems.

Councilor Mike Myatt said that he has had several calls regarding beach maintenance and the condition of Port Elgin Beach in terms of not being able to take machinery on to the beach because it is a nesting area.

"I do understand Federal legislation regarding endangered birds ... I get it and understand the MNR is doing its job.  I also understand when Plovers come in and nest and we fence off the area.  I like birds but is there a middle ground?  I know the male showed up this year but there was no nesting within the one kilometre required by the MNR.  My question is ... is there a middle ground to reach if nesting doesn't happen ... can we step up maintenance?

Mayor Mike Smith agreed and pointed out that, "Agreements can be reached with MNR but it is their responsibility to enforce the ESA and I can assure you they will ... and the fines for corporations who are in violation can be upwards of one million dollars.  So, I think we need to work cooperatively with MNR and that's where we want to direct our questions."

Director of Community Services, Jane Jagelewski, said that, "We have done this somewhat to ourselves when we talk about the grasses on the main beach.  In the last term,  I explained to the then-Council that we know there are individuals who don't like grasses on the beach and we have grasses growing on the beach that we never had 20 years ago, such as sedges that thrive on wet beaches.  However, we used to grade our beaches 'every' Friday and, each time we did that, we got lower and lower to the water table.  The sand is turned over so that the top layer dries and then becomes air borne and is lost.   That's why we planted dune grasses .. to try to capture that sand. "

Jagelewski went on to say that the beach has 'relic' sand that is old.  "It is not a Florida beach - it is not a Myrtle Beach with white fluffy sand ... it is a natural habitat beach on a 'fresh' body of water and the sand is irreplaceable."

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"Therefore," she said, "as we grade it each time, we lose sand and we are now in a repair mode in order to keep the existing sand that we do have.  Yes, we have a wet beach but we have unfortunately done it to ourselves.  We permitted grading every Friday going into a weekend.  Then, about seven or eight years ago, we started grading only four times leading into each long weekend. Then, we had Piping Plovers that appeared and that changed the stage for the way we maintain our beaches.  Working with MNR, we have been asked specifically to grade only 'twice' in the summer.  That means we have to look at a different way of maintaining the beaches by getting the heavy equipment off in order to have a sustainable beach for the future."

 

Myatt asked when a beach standards manual could be seen by council for consideration.

 Jagelewski said that working with MNRF and Lake Huron Coastal Conversation, the town in partnership, is looking at a maintenance program specific to the area.  "It isn't a cookie-cutter situation that is the same for every beach, but is specific to what is happening on our beaches.

Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber raised the issue of the Chantry Island bird sanctuary.  "I realize it is a different level of government in that it is Federal but there is no habitat left out there for most birds and the Federal government is doing nothing to ensure that migratory birds will be there in the future and I'm sure we've already lost the Blue Herons.  As another bird place in our community, it has also suffered extreme devastation."

Jagelewski said that she is working closely with MNRF and will bring results back to Council.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015