By Pauline Kerr
The May 20 meeting of Kincardine council, especially the committee of the whole portion, was chippy, a term that usually describes the kind of hockey game where there are more players in the penalty box than on the bench.
The reason was the closure of all beaches in Bruce and Grey counties, just in time for the May long weekend. Apparently, there was a public uproar that included numerous irate calls to council members.
The meeting via Zoom started off on a sour note, with a lengthy and heated argument about whether to hold the discussion in open session or closed, since it was a matter with legal ramifications, or to postpone it to another date, since not all councillors had read the information emailed just prior to the meeting. Apparently, a couple of councillors had not even received the email.
Coun. Laura Haight said she wanted the matter dealt with in open session.
Mayor Anne Eadie suggested hearing the presentation by Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health (MOH), and possibly having the discussion on another date. The entire matter, including questions, proceeded in open session.
The issue up for debate involved Kincardine’s beaches, which had initially been closed by provincial order early in the COVID-19 emergency and had been posted accordingly. However, they were subsequently opened (on April 19) for people walking through – and again, appropriate signs were posted. Then, on May 15, literally hours before the long weekend began, they and all other beaches in Bruce and Grey counties were closed – completely – by an order from the medical officer of health, with those in violation of the order subject to a substantial fine.
The order included not only the beaches themselves, but accesses, the boardwalk and other amenities.
CAO Sharon Chambers reported in her update on the COVID-19 emergency that there were three orders involving Kincardine’s beaches – to close the premises, to post signage at the points of entry to the premises, and to use “reasonable measures” to advertise the order.
Chambers said the public response to the order was “negative.”
Arra was in attendance via Zoom, and explained what is happening as the province begins to reopen. This area has had “exceptional success” in the battle against the spread of COVID-19, with no new cases in several days and no deaths. The plans for re-opening are based on the Johns Hopkins model that “answers the question of what, not when.”
He said there are three groups of people in Bruce-Grey – permanent residents, cottagers and those visiting for the day. When it comes to compliance with local orders, there is no problem with the first two, but the latter is a major concern. Closing the beaches for a short time, two weeks, sends a message. “The intention of the order is an awareness campaign,” Arra said.
He told council it takes three weeks to “see a spike” in COVID-19 after each step in reopening. Small, localized outbreaks are anticipated, and traced. But if the beaches are open, it’s impossible to trace an outbreak.
Coun. Randy Roppel said the order “was pretty hastily put together and (it was) forced on us. … I wish your department had made elected officials aware.”
Arra responded that he had been in communication with heads of council and others “for over a week” but said there were things that could be done better.
Coun. Bill Stewart said, “This order needed to be better communicated,” and asked why the mayor hadn’t informed council.
The mayor said she had mentioned at the May 11 meeting that the MOH was looking into an order (to close beaches).
Arra noted, “This decision was made by all the mayors,” in consultation with the province, emergency services and others. And the goal of the order was to provide them with a tool to protect their communities. He stressed the need to act in concert with other communities to avoid having one area become a magnet to others outside the area.
However, some members of council were of the opinion Kincardine council should be making decisions about Kincardine beaches, and Haight read a motion she had composed to that effect, saying the MOH should rescind the order and a municipal bylaw should be put in place. Stated in the motion was “the order went beyond the provincial order” (provincial parks have been open for walking through). Haight’s motion further stated the mayor was aware of the order but did not inform council.
The motion carried with five of seven members of council voting for it; council asked Arra to rescind the May 15 beach closure order as it applies to Kincardine. Council will enact a bylaw, should they wish to close the beaches under their control. The order remains in effect at this time.
The day after the May 20 council meeting, thanks to clarification from Arra, a notice was posted on the municipal website stating that as of Friday, May 22, the boat launches, both sides of the boardwalk, and any portion of the trail system that goes along the shore, were open.
In addition, the Kincardine Marina will be open for members of the Kincardine Yacht Club to start preparing it for the season and boat owners to start working on their boats for the season.
However, all beaches, any structures on the beach and piers will remain closed under this order. Closure of these areas means that no activity of any kind can take place.
The order is in effect until it is rescinded.
Some recreational amenities open
Kincardine has also opened the following recreation amenities: Kindog off leash dog park, skatepark at the Davidson Centre, tennis courts, outdoor walking track at the Davidson Centre, benches, picnic areas and shelters, baseball diamonds and soccer fields.
Residents are reminded that the provincial order is still in place regarding any social gathering of more than five people. This restriction includes the usage of any recreational amenities.