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  • Writer's pictureHannah Sabourin

Farm point ‘road docks’ on chopping block

Rita Jain tried to save the Farm Point docks.


The Farm Point councillor proposed an amendment to Chelsea’s controversial dock bylaw during the Dec. 6 council meeting that would have protected nine road docks along Chemin de la Rivière from municipalization.


But Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard and councillors Christopher Blais and Kimberley Chan voted against the amendment - striking a 3-3 tie - and effectively quashing the proposal. Councillor Cybèle Wilson was absent from the meeting.


During the meeting, Jain argued that the municipalization or removal of docks could cause more harm than good.


“There are plans to create a public dock in Farm Point as well as other access points farther south.


But it will take time given the capacity and resources of the municipality,” said Jain during the meeting. “The first public dock will likely only [be installed] in Farm Point in the summer of 2024 at the earliest, and others will come after that. I feel that there is a gap between the objectives and how we are implementing them. I believe we will be actually removing access before providing access.”


The municipality’s stated purpose for the dock bylaw is to protect the shoreline by limiting how many people can install docks along the Gatineau River and other Chelsea lakes. The plan is to increase access to the river by turning some private community docks into public docks.


Following Jain’s quashed motion, council members voted on the dock draft bylaw - however Jain recused herself from voting on the dock bylaw stating conflict of interest. According to the municipal code of ethics, those who have personal interest in the bylaws on which they are voting should abstain from voting. Councillors voted 3-2 to approve the draft bylaw. The final version of the dock bylaw will likely come into effect in April 2023.


New dock bylaw rules


Under the new bylaw, there are two scenarios where Chelsea residents will be allowed to continue to install their docks in the Gatineau River: If they own river front property, or property directly adjacent to the river.


Even if a homeowner’s property and dock are separated by the Voie Verte Chelsea or Chemin de la Rivière, the property owner is still permitted to install their dock.


“Road docks”


However, the municipality will assess the legality of docks that fall outside these parameters.


If one does not have a property along or adjacent to the Gatineau River – something Jain referred to as “road docks,” that person must apply to have their dock municipalized, which means Chelsea would take ownership and management of the dock.


To be municipalized, the docks must comply with a set of criteria that includes safety and privacy measures. Once municipalized these docks will become free for all Chelsea paddlers and swimmers to use at their leisure.


If the municipality does not deem that existing docks fall within their safety and environmental guidelines, they reserve the right to remove those docks from the water, according to the bylaw.


Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard said that, once the final version of the bylaw is adopted next spring, the municipality would implement it over a five-year period, adding that the municipality would not remove road docks without consulting with their owners or users first.


During the council meeting, Jain attempted to dispel the notion that those with road docks along the Gatineau River are squatters. She said that many of those docks were first installed 20, 40, and even 60 years ago and argued that the removal of those docks would be an affront to Chelsea’s history.


“It seems nasty to me that these docks [will] be removed or repossessed by the municipality. As we should be encouraging this kind of sharing instead of penalizing,” said Jain. “[M]ost of these docks are likely not up to municipal dock standards, and the municipality does not currently have the capacity to take them all in and out each season or maintain them,” she continued.


Despite the mayor’s comments that road docks would be removed over the next five years, Jain argued that some road docks would not be renewed this coming summer. She specifically pointed out nine road docks on Chemin de la Rivière, where temporary removal notices had been posted to prepare the river for road work.


The letter also states that owners must obtain a municipal permit to reinstall their docks next spring, but because they are “road docks,” Jain said she was concerned that many of them won’t be approved.


She estimated that approximately 300 people would lose access to the Gatineau River if the nine road docks in Farm Point aren’t reinstalled, as many are used by community groups. “It should be noted that these docks were constructed based on community fundraising and labour as well as maintained and winterized by residents,” she said during the meeting.


Hollow Glen Coun. Chan said she voted against Jain’s amendment to increase river access for the “97 per cent” or residents who don’t currently have water access, while Blais said he didn’t want to micromanage community groups.


Farm Point resident Stéphanie Yung-Hing is an active user of a road dock along Chemin de la Rivière. During the first question period, Yung-Hing said she was worried about a lack of consultation with community groups that use and maintain road docks. She asked council to spend more time consulting with dock owners before decisions are made.


“Why is this so hard? You are here to represent us,” she said.


Guénard responded, “Yes, we represent those who live along the river. But we also represent those who live in Ward 1 who have no access to the river, the people in Ward 6 who have no access to the river, and those in Ward 2 who have almost no access to the river.”


Ward 1 Coun. Valente supported Jain’s amendment and said the dock bylaw unfairly encroached on the lives and relationships of private citizens.


Ward 2 Coun. Labrie added that the new dock bylaw detracts from its goal, to make the river accessible to the greatest number of people.


“Removing community docks in the Farm Point sector – that doesn’t give more access to the water, for the residents of my district,” said Labrie. “We could have community docks looked after by the municipality. And we could [also] preserve existing road docks,” he said.


The mayor also expressed qualms over the word “community”, the word he used to describe road docks. Because they are often privately owned by a group of people, he said he does not believe they should be allowed on municipal land. “Community [really means] community,” he said during the meeting. “So, the 8,000 residents in Chelsea can go without getting evicted by certain people who can be considered the guardians of a community dock that is private for a group,” he said.

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