SVCA and Saugeen Shores at an impasse over CCV – a lengthy read


What defines a Dynamic Beach Hazard?  That appears to be the question as the Town of Saugeen Shores and Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) seem to be at an impasse over the proposed Cedar Crescent Valley (CCV) development for Port Elgin main beach.

Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) and the Town of Saugeen Shores recently met in an administration review that lasted for hours.  “This administration review is on the application by the Town of Saugeen Shores and to determine its completeness,” said Maureen Couture, Chair of the SVCA.  “A Section 28 Hearing may occur at a later date.”

The proposed development is a Private-Public project on the main beach, that is owned by the Town of Saugeen Shores and currently provides parking for visitors to the beach.  Although past historic uses included a ‘casino/dance hall’, a mini-steam train station and gift shop with an adjacent mini-golf course, the proposed development is using a more extensive footprint that is closer to the water, and the Dynamic Beach Hazard area.

The development would consist of: a restaurant/banquet/conference facility; tourism/town services; outdoor programming space, beach related commercial; family friendly activities.

Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau explained at the meeting that CCV had prepared design concepts. “The town has endorsed the concepts and they were selected following a request for proposal (RFP) by the town to develop the lands in question.  The revitalization of the space is within the regulated area of the SVCA and, therefore, the team seeks approval of the permit to continue with the development.”

The Saugeen Shores Team consists of Project Manager, Phil Eagleson; Coastal Engineer of Shoreplan Engineering Ltd. Bruce Pinchin; Town CAO Kara Van Myall; Town Engineer Amanda Froese; Mayor Luke Charbonneau.

The CCV proponents consist of G. M. Diemert Architect Inc.; Cobide Engineering Inc.; Pier and Paulo Donnini.

The Town of Saugeen Shores considers its application for a permit to be complete and requested that SVCA Executive Committee make a decision as to the Dynamic Beach Hazard limit based on it being “.. defined by the lakeward edge of the hardened walkway/promenade” and “… that the application then be considered as complete and move to a Section 28 Hearing to approve the the Permit with conditions for detailed engineering drawings to the SVCA’s satisfaction.”

According to SVCA, the applicant (Town) and the SVCA are at an impasse regarding completeness of the application to consider the impacts of the development.  At issue is what constitutes a Dynamic Beach Hazard limit.

SVCA consultant and coastal expert Peter Zuzek of Zuzek Engineering shared a cross-sectional graphic and said that “… water fluctuates on the Great Lakes and the reason for a 30m setback is because water levels do change.  When the levels are high, the beaches flood and there is a process where sand moves off the beaches to create sand bars.  This is a well-established natural process and the 30m setback is to ensure that development does not encroach on the dynamic area and that the beaches can transition through the natural cycles.  The beaches change and are very dynamic and the setback policies provide protection for them and provide the stability they need.”

The purpose of the 30m allowance is “…to avoid interference with a natural beach and dune interaction that takes place on a dynamic beach.  Dunes supply sand to nearshore breaker bars during severe events at high water levels and the allowance preserves this role.”

According to Brandi Walter, SVCA Environmental Planning Coordiantor, “The SVCA does not support development within Dynamic Beach Hazard limits where there would be an impact on the five regulatory tests … control flooding, erosion, pollution, dynamic beaches or the conservation of land.”

SVCA said that it requires more analysis and technical reports on the Dynamic Beach Hazard to define the hazard limits based on scientific justification and Walter added that, “More technical studies may be requested.  If the assessment shows that there would be no impact on the five tests, staff may support the development but, if staff does not approve, then the issue would move to a Section 28 Hearing.”

When it comes to the dynamic beach hazard limit, the Town’s ShorePlan Engineering maintains that the paving stone walkway/promenade along the beach “…represents the practical limit of the dynamic beach.”

The town’s professional engineer, Amanda Froese, concurred that “… the dynamic beach hazard terminates at the hardened walkway of the promenade and that suggested technical study will not clarify the dynamic beach processes.”

(May, 2021) SVCA staff indicated that the Dynamic Beach Hazard area was in question and staff was not satisfied that the town’s submission “… addressed the fact that the proposed development would not have a negative effect on the natural shoreline processes and that it would not have an impact to control flooding, erosion, pollution, dynamic beaches or the conservation of land.”

Bruce Pinchin of Shoreplan Engineering and the SVCA engineer and coastal expert consultant, Peter Zuzek, maintain a difference of opinion when it comes to the Dynamic Beach Hazard limit.

According to Pinchin, “Technical guides by MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) define the dynamic beach limit as a default value of 30m, or an engineering study.  We re-calculated that the dynamic beach is not inland of what was mapped by the Conservation Authority and a detailed study will supersede the mapping.  It is our opinion that it is not appropriate.  This was an urban site developed 100 years ago. There are no natural dunes or other beach features on the landward side of the walkway/promenade … the sand on the landward side of the walkway does not play a role in the protection and maintenance of the beach profile as it is maintained by the town as part of the parking lot.  Beach erosion stops at the hardened structure (walkway). The beach profile stops when it encounters a hardened structure (walkway).  The landward side of the promenade is a parking lot not a dynamic beach.  Wasaga for instance is currently putting out plans for re-development of their beach.  It was requested we do a long-change using aerial photographs … aerial views do not provide any insight as to how the beach profile has changed but only indicates the difference in water levels.  During flood hazard assessment, we completed an extensive analysis … and we do not want to go through a similar exercise for the dynamic beach hazard limit.”

SVCA’s Walter said however, that Shoreplan’s statement “… was not supported by any scientific or engineering principles and … no information on historical changes in the beach position, recent trends or the impacts of constructing the paving stone walkway on the beach were presented.”  The hardened walkway may also now be under consideration.

Walter added that, “SVCA staff and the applicant (Town) have been in discussions since June 14th to consider the possibility of moving the walkway further inland to nourish the resiliency of the beach but it would not be a substitute for the technical analysis required to consider reduction of the 30m hazard beach limit.  Therefore, the technical Dynamic Beach Hazard assessment is required and currently the reduction of the 30m setback is not justified.  Without the study, there is not enough analysis to evaluate the impacts of the development on the five regulatory tests.”

In June, the Town did not agree with SVCA and reiterated that the hardened walkway was the limit.  The hardened walkway was also then brought into the discussion as Walter pointed out that it is not substantive enough to withstand the natural lake processes under high water levels.

Walter reminded that, “Under Ontario Regulation 169/06, a Conservation Authority may grant permission for development if the natural shoreline processes will not be affected however, without the Dynamic Beach Hazard assessment, SVCA cannot form an opinion as to the impact on the five regulatory tests.  Therefore, the applicant and the SVCA are at an impasse on the technical analysis required to evaluate the appropriateness of the existing Dynamic Beach Hazard limit and mapping.  If the analysis undertaken should demonstrate that the development would have an impact on the five tests, the technical analysis could also investigate restoration alternatives for coastal dunes and vegetation that could increase the resiliency of the beach.  Without knowing the impacts, there could be risk to life, property and conservation of land.”

She added that SVCA staff have, therefore, requested that Dynamic Beach Hazard assessment be undertaken to SVCA’s satisfaction to complete the application.

While there is a standard 30m dynamic beach allowance, Zuzek pointed out with an aerial view that between 2014 and 2019, the waterline had migrated extensively due to rising lake levels. “… climate change will introduce new challenges for the beach as the waterline has already migrated 68 metres inland during the rising lake levels and projected levels may be even higher.”

Zuzek pointed out that there is, in fact, a dune and that the sand blows across the walkway/promenade which indicates beach dynamic processes.  “The dynamic beach hazard is problematic for the developer and there is evidence that the sand migrates across the walkway … and there are dunes and they are trying to function as such to trap sand.  So, to say there are no dunes is not true.  The dunes perform a very important function at this site.”

Pinchin agreed that there are dunes but the one on the landward site was created by the town.  “The sand blowing across the walkway is removed by the Town and does not go back on to the beach. The dune on the landward site was constructed by the Town.”

Committee Member, Bill Stewart of Kincardine, said that “It (Port Elgin beach) is not a virgin natural dynamic beach but is one that has been altered by the break-wall and has been humanly changed over a hundred years … it is not a natural beach like that of Sauble Beach.”

[NOTE prior to questions by Director Cheryl Grace:  Cheryl Grace said that she had sought advice of the Integrity Commissioner as to a possible conflict of interest as a member of Saugeen Shores Council and a director of the SVCA. The Commissioner said that, as a Director of the SVCA, Grace’s actions are regulated under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act as the SVCA is defined as a local board.  Although there is no direct pecuniary interest in the matter being discussed, there is an indirect pecuniary interest, as a member of council, in the town’s development when it comes before the SVCA board. Under the Conflict of Interest Act however, there are exceptions to the indirect conflict of interest and that the indirect conflicts do not apply to a local board and, as a member of the SVCA board by way of appointment by the Council of Saugeen Shores, she is allowed to participate in discussions about the Town’s development permit.  The Integrity Commissioner said that there was no conflict of interest under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act or the Saugeen Shores Council Code of Conduct … and that it would also apply to Director Mike Myatt and to other Directors in respect of their municipalities.]

Grace raised the question that Zuzek had stated in a letter that damage to the walkway was believed to have been due to erosion but the Town engineer, Amanda Froese, said the damage was caused by equipment that was part of the break-wall restoration at the harbour.

Director Mike Myatt:  wanted the engineering consultants to clarify that the proposed development area is landward of the promenade constructed in 1995 and that the walkway does not go through natural erosion.

Response:  Pinchin said that “… there was no erosion as the promenade was maintained by the town but, if maintenance was not carried out, some dunes could likely develop but there was no way to calculate the distance.”

Response:  Zuzek however, said that “… the sole test of whether something is bad or not for a dynamic beach is not erosion.  Flood risk, erosion and wave action are all things that are clearly written in the technical guide and it is also very clear that you don’t need to have naturally occurring dunes to have a dynamic beach.  Those are all important things written in the technical guide and are used to discern where the limit is and those things have not been investigated and those tests have not been determined.”

Myatt also referred to a letter whereby SVCA General Manager said a re-designed walkway and dune restoration could possibly protect the site with nature-based restoration that includes dune restoration, a raised and re-aligned walkway subject to approved design and a re-evaluation of the dynamic beach hazard limit. “The statement seems to confirm that this is a hardened feature and the dynamic beach limit could be re-designed and the existing parking lot is not acting as a dynamic beach.”

Response:  Zuzek said, referring to the letter, that SVCA was trying to find some common ground between the parties and the common ground looked at the possibility of restoring the dunes and protecting the nature of them in this location so that the dynamic beach hazard limit could be re-evaluated.  “It was an attempt to look at a solution to the impasse and possibly create a way to restoring a dune in this area to make it higher and wider to provide protection to the site and also address some of the comments of the dynamic beach language which deals with the movement of sediments, flood risk and wave action.”

Response:  Pinchin said that one of the conclusions was the flood proofing analysis.  “One of the best ways of flood proofing is to raise the site with fill so there has to be a transition from the fill down to the natural beach.  That provides a possible opportunity to find some dune enhancement.  The town is open to reasonable compromise but the stumbling block is how to define the limit of the Dynamic Beach Hazard and, until a hazard limit is found, you cannot develop within the hazard.  So, a limit needs to be defined before we can move on with what sort of compromise can be reached.

As Myatt continued with his questioning, he said that Saugeen Shores seems to have completed the application as requested, with the exception of the Dynamic Beach Hazard.  The Chair interrupted Myatt’s questioning saying that what he was asking should be held for the deliberation session after the closed (in camera) session.  Myatt however insisted that the meeting was to decide on whether or not the application was complete and his line of questioning related to the completeness of the application.

Town of Saugeen Shores consultant Pinchin asserted that a computer model would put the limit of the dynamic beach hazard at the hardscape walkway saying that computer models show how beaches and dunes erode at high water levels but that ” … wave action would be stopped at the hardened walkway”.

                             Landward side of the walkway/promenade – September, 2021

Myatt then questioned why Pinchin was not in favour of aerial photography that had been requested by SVCA.

Response:  Pinchin said, “It won’t work here … this is a flat shoreline and typical aerial photography does not provide any additional insight and does not show the profile change, which is the key to the dynamic beach limit, but only shows the different waterline levels.

Response:  Zuzek said he disagreed. “This aerial photo gives a tremendous amount of information.  The water line has migrated 70m over five years and this beach (Port Elgin) is responding to the lake levels and the sand is moving into shallow water.  It clearly shows its a dynamic system and is encroaching on the north walkway and it’s incredibly useful to look at how systems change when looking at fluctuating water levels.  The break-wall is not dynamic and there the water line does not change.  The beach, on the other hand, has become incredibly narrow and the waves frequently wash over the promenade with the landward inland area (parking lot) also impacted by wave action.”

Following a short break in proceedings, the SVCA directors moved into closed session (in-camera) to received legal advice subject to solicitor-client privilege.  According to General Manager, Jennifer Stephens, “A major storm reached its climax in Kincardine and Saugeen Shores just as the members were exiting the closed session.  The Administrative Review was promptly postponed to a date yet to be determined.  SVCA staff are hopeful that the Administrative Review can be resumed the week of September 27th.”