Beaches access a major topic of discussion at Special Meeting of Council

A virtual Special Meeting of Saugeen Shores Town Council was held on Monday, June 29th to primarily discuss beach access.

Director of Community Services, Jayne Jagelewski, said that Bruce County signage had been re-located at all Saugeen Shores beaches.  “We have also reduced parking at Gobles Grove and have moved picnic tables in to the volleyball court area at Port Elgin main beach and police will also be patrolling on a regular basis.”

Police Chief Mike Bellai said that over the past weekend, there had been 15 foot patrols on the beaches.  “In Port Elgin, we issued six written warnings with three for liquor and three to GTA visitors for non-distancing.  In Southampton, we issued four warnings for liquor and one caution for a fire in the Dunes area of the beach to GTA visitors.”

He added that overall most people were respectful and calls were fairly normal.  “People were making a sincere effort for social distancing.”

Director of Protective Services, Fire Chief Phil Eagleson, agreed with the Chief and said there were 12 situations: two BBQs, five fire and five dog related issues.  “The By-law officer also worked all weekend walking the beaches monitoring for infractions.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that he had spoken with the Grey Bruce Medical Officer of Health (MOH) Dr. Ian Arra and that beaches across the region had similar situations where Saturday was fairly quiet due to weather but were busier on Sunday.  “Dr. Arra said that there were no activities that were a threat to public health and that he was happy with what was happening.  According to Dr. Arra, people in the region have been very good and there was a high percentage of people who are trying to be compliant.”

Deputy Mayor, Don Matheson pointed out that Port Elgin and Gobles Grove beaches are easier to monitor but Southampton poses a different issue.  “There are two different times of the day, 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., particularly at the Dunes, and the biggest issue is parking especially at the foot of Bay and South Streets and on Chantry View.  We are expecting very hot weather for the next two weeks and I am concerned the numbers (of beach goers) will increase.  I also don’t want to see our young students telling people what they can and can’t do on the beach.  I would prefer to see increased foot patrols by police.”

Council Cheryl Grace also said that she had received “mixed observations” from residents.  “People reported that South Beach was very crowded today with a large group with a BBQ and a large dog running loose.  No one saw any foot patrols.  On Adelaide, there was another group of 12 with a BBQ.  “There are no signs prohibiting BBQs or tents and many visitors from out of town are unaware of the rule against BBQs.  I am also concerned about Canada Day.  What kind of patrols are there going to be?”  She also asked if there was a special number to phone.

Chief Bellai said that consideration was given for special constables and that they could be used for the weekends.  “There has been no need for them yet but we are certainly open to using them and they are on call if needed.  People can also phone directly to 519-832-2500.”

Vice Deputy Mayor, Mike Myatt, said that he had personally made several trips to both Port Elgin and Southampton beaches over the weekend.  “I saw people being very respectful and officers who dealt with a large group of people very professionally.  Rather than being reactive however, I would like to see us being proactive like Goderich has been.  It is important to keep beaches open and I hope our Chief has special constables ready to go with a plan.  i would be in favour of three additional special constables as the temperatures continue to climb.”

Councilor John Rich suggested a ‘beach ambassador program’ that could perhaps be initiated through the Port Elgin Beach Preservers group and the Southampton Residents Association (SRA).  “Perhaps they would be interested in sponsoring T-shirts that could say something like ‘Keep your Distance’.  Maybe the BIAs could donate gift certificates from local businesses that could be handed out as a positive message and it would help promote local business.  I would be more than willing to reach out on this and report back to Council.”

While Mayor Charbonneau said that he didn’t want to put people at risk by encouraging more contact during COVID-19, he thought the idea could be part of the Economic Recovery/Strategic initiative program.

Councilor Jami Smith raised the issue of the removal of volleyball space to allow for more beach towel space.  “I realize there is no opportunity for play during the day but, in the evenings, people should be able to bring their own nets to the beach and I would like the town to reconsider the volleyball ban and the picnic tables.

Jagelewski explained that there was actually a Provincial regulation against large-scale sports “scrimmages” but that she would look into it.

When it comes to the possibility of beach closures, Mayor Charbonneau said it would only be done as a last resort to protect public health and would not want to see it be permanent.

Myatt asked if the decision is made to close the beaches would it be applicable to all beaches or only one and would the Director of Community Services be solely responsible to make the decision.

Jagelewski explained that it was a difficult question.  “If you close one beach, the others would soon become overcrowded so that we would have to look at the overall impact.”

The Mayor also added that the Director would not make the decision on her own.  “We would assess the situation and would make the best call that we could until all of Council could get together.”

When it comes to face coverings, the Mayor said that those in retail should wear face coverings. “The time may come for it to be mandated through an order from Public Health. In the coming weeks, staff will begin to draft a By-law should be direction come and we will follow the advice of Public Health a they are the experts.”