• Hunter Cresswell

Five public access points to river – Chelsea wants input

Consultation online until Feb. 18

Forgive the pun, but let’s dive into the issue of public access to the Gatineau River in Chelsea.

The municipality of Chelsea, through an online public consultation, is asking for input on possible future locations of river access sites including here, near Chemin Kirk’s Ferry and the community trail. Hunter Cresswell photo

The promised and long-awaited public consultation on where access points will be, what they will look like and the possibility of an official boat ramp came in the form of three online questionnaires on the Cocoriko online public consultation platform. Chelsea originally planned to hold the consultation in-person, but gatherings still aren’t allowed under current provincial laws due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given the context with COVID restrictions, all municipal consultations are held online and not in-person. Also, an online public consultation gives the opportunity for more residents to have their say on the subject, since the survey can be held over four weeks and not just an evening or two,” Mayor Caryl Green wrote in an email to The Low Down.

The survey asks for input on five possible public access locations: near Chemin Kirk’s Ferry and the community trail; along River Road near Chemin Carnochan; along the community trail behind a vacant lot near the Chelsea Smokehouse; near the Farm Point community centre or park; or between Chemin Carman and the municipal border with La Pêche.

Maps are provided to show the exact location of each access point.

“The survey results will help council to identify potential sites for access to the Gatineau River (number to be determined). Once the sites have been identified, a feasibility study will be conducted on each site. This study will also establish the cost to develop a safe access point to the river,” Green wrote in response to a question about cost estimates for the access points.

When asked why the public was being consulted when a cost estimate is not yet available, she wrote: “Feasibility studies can be costly. Council wants to identify possible sites before conducting a feasibility study or cost analysis on potential access points. Only when the feasibility studies are completed, and the associated costs are known, will the council decide where, how and when to build safe access points to the river.”

Ward 3 Coun. Greg McGuire has one proposed access site in his ward, near Chemin Kirk’s Ferry and the community trail. He said he shared the concerns that he’s heard from neighbours and residents about parking, privacy and noise.

“It might be better if we had simpler access points. Just stairs here and there down to the water along the trail,” McGuire said.

As the consultation continues, details, such as liability, will be worked out.

“Municipal staff are currently establishing the legal requirements related to providing access to the Gatineau River,” Green wrote, adding that the access points won’t be staffed with lifeguards and that MRC des Collines Police will respond to calls at access points as needed.

When asked about what is driving the complicated process of opening up river access to the public when some access points are very close to residents' homes, both Green and McGuire said that the municipality is moving ahead with this project at the requests of citizens.

“The comments received during the initial consultation on the dock bylaw indicated that residents would like to have access to the Gatineau River from the community trail, by foot or bicycle, but not from a nearby parking lot,” Green wrote.

“It’s something council has been hearing since I’ve been elected,” McGuire confirmed.

After the consultation ends in February, the comments and questions gathered will be compiled and given to both councillors and staff.

By the evening of Jan. 25, almost 2,000 votes had been cast in the consultation.

Two related but separate surveys ask for input on the idea of a community dock, a boat launch and other amenities.

This issue has reared its head because of the municipality of Chelsea’s $47,426 purchase of 1.89 million square metres of Gatineau River waterfront property, which was approved in early 2020. A public consultation on the purchase took place in February 2020 and packed a room in the Meredith Centre.

To take part in the consultation, visit chelsea.cocoriko.org through Feb. 18 or reach out to your councillor.

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