• Hunter Cresswell

High Rock ‘undesirables’ face $500 fine

By Hunter Cresswell

Years of complaints from nearby residents came to a head this past week and now no one’s allowed to access the Gatineau River near Church Road in Chelsea at an unofficial river spot known as "High Rock."

New fence and signs have been installed along an unofficial river spot known as ‘High Rock’ off a community trail near Church Road, which has become a popular spot for partying and drinking. Stuart Benson photo

“This parcel of land, which over time has become the access point for undesirables to reach the Gatineau River, is adjacent to the community trail [and is] popular with the residents,” an MRC des Collines Police report states.

Years of illegal parking, partying, littering and noise has led to a fence and signs, and now police foot patrols in the area to possibly issue tickets to anyone in the “prohibited zone” along the water. These tickets start at $350, but with associated fees end up costing about $499, MRC des Collines Police Sgt. Martin Fournel said — that’s on top of citations or fines for littering, drinking in public, open fires and more, which officers have the discretion to give out as well.

People have been going to this area to swim, soak up some sun and jump from the rocks into the cool water for over a decade despite the fact that it has never been a designated public water access point. It’s owned by Hydro-Québec, but it’s been leased by the municipality of Chelsea since 2016. That lease only allows for the land to be used as a trail – the municipality’s community trail runs through it – and this allows the police to issue fines.

“Our officers are patrolling the area twice a day on foot. The goal is not to give fines,” Fournel said.

Used by locals for years without much friction with neighbours on Church Road or along the bay, the people who have been causing problems in the area over recent years are largely young, teens or young adults from out of the area, Gatineau or Ottawa, according to Fournel.

“I’m sure [they] have something better to do with 500 bucks,” Fournel said about the money used to pay fines.

Chelsea Ward 2 councillor Pierre Guénard represents the affected sector. He said he’s stopped at High Rock during runs to catch his breath and drink water. While he’ll miss doing that, he admits that something had to be done to address the impacts river-goers were having on nearby residents.

“Some measures were needed,” Guénard said.

He said one of the first things the municipality did to address the issue was to make parking on one side of Church Road illegal, but people just started parking on the other side of the street. When the municipality made parking anywhere along Church Road illegal, people just started parking on Hwy 105 near Church Road.

The municipality tried these “soft measures”, but because they didn’t work it decided to meet with Church Road residents to discuss other possible solutions, Guénard said.

“They met with residents and out of that, they kind of agreed on the fence that was put there and the signage,” he said.

Since early-June, officers in the area have issued five tickets and a lot of warnings, Fournel explained.

“It’s our job to make sure all partying there comes to an end,” he added.

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