Protest held over proposed beach development in Port Elgin

There was no doubt at Monday night’s Saugeen Shores Council meeting (Nov. 25/19) that there are people who are angry over the proposed revitalization project for Port Elgin Beach.

Before the meeting began, local residents protested outside the administration building carrying placards and shouting various slogans.

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This has been an on-going contentious issue for more than a year after residents saw the demise of the long-standing iconic mini-steam train that was a popular tourist attraction and a symbol of the past for several generations.

Since ceasing operation, the ‘train station’ at Port Elgin main beach has remained idle and the property has since been allowed to become derelict.

The recent proposal, received from a private numbered company that features at least six business partners, is for a project that features a ‘strip plaza’ type mall and 300-seat capacity convention centre closer to the water’s edge than the ‘station’ footprint.

In addition, there are also several conditions in the proposed lease agreement that many people have questioned, including a 50 year lease and waiving property taxes for the company.

Patricia Corrigan-Frank, who presented a delegation at the Council meeting and who represented the organization, ‘The Beach Preservers’, pointed to the Waterfront Master Plan of 2013 that set out “to enhance the quality of life for Saugeen Shores’ residents and visitors through the development of a Saugeen Shores Waterfront Master Plan.”

She said that the group applauds Council and the progress it has made to incorporate some of the goals of the 2014 Port Elgin Waterfront Design Concept Plan. “We now have a children’s splash pad, the expanded “Beach House” is available for all visitors, the promenade has been extended, signage is much improved, the new path to North Shore park has been completed with decorative landscaping and appropriate light standards, and there are several new look-out areas.”

She also raised the fact however, that EDA consulting group had coordinated a study and brought forth a Waterfront Design Concept and Budget Allotment of 2014. As stated in the document, “It is important to ensure that the Design Concept balances the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the site.”

Frank said that taxpayers had paid $27,500 for the study that produced an exciting plan for the beachfront but then questioned,  “Where did these plans disappear to? Why have they never even been mentioned at any of these meetings?  … The estimated cost at that time, to be completed in three phases, was $6.6 million dollars. Why have we veered so far away from this plan? There is only one answer…saving money. There are more important things than saving money. This must be done right.”

Outside of monetary concerns, environmental issues were also raised.  In the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) final consultative report on June 19, 2019, it states, “ As it appears, a large portion of the proposed restaurant/banquet hall and southern access road are largely located within the dynamic beach.  Unfortunately, SVCA’s policies for development with the dynamic beach hazard do not support new development within the dynamic beach hazard limit. As such, SVCA staff recommends the site plan 5 be amended to locate this structure and the southern access route to an area outside the dynamic beach hazard.”

Other issues raised by the Beach Preservers group is the endangered species the Piping Plover whose habitat is protected which includes Port Elgin Beach and the rising water levels that will create a high water mark from which the distance that buildings can be built is determined.

According to the group that has also established a petition, there have been almost 4400 signatures in support of the petition that reads, “NO Convention Centre on Port Elgin Waterfront”, which appears to be the ‘sticking point’ according to the group.  “We, citizens of Saugeen Shores, want revìtalization”NOT commercialization, of Port Elgin’s Main Beach!”