Once the Voie Verte trail was opened up, thousands of people were able to enjoy new views of the Gatineau River from the trail as they walked or cycled or skied. In addition to vistas of the river and hills, they saw plenty of docks on the water, and many wondered who owned all these docks on public land. How could Chelsea own the old rail corridor and the former Hydro lands bordering the river and still there was no place to swim?
Many of the existing docks have “Proprieté Privée” and “Défense de Passer” signs, even when they are located on what is clearly public land. Some docks, of course, are genuinely on privately-owned property and such signs are legitimate. For many years, Chelsea administration has turned a blind eye to all the false claims, and the policy has been laissez-faire. Now, a new bylaw to regulate docks on the river aims to entrench the status quo of private docks on public land. Imagine if such a policy were in place for soccer fields in Chelsea! People could put up sheds or seating on the pitch and the sidelines with big “No Trespassing” signs. It would be wrong on the soccer fields and it is wrong on publicly-owned land along the river.
The proposed, but not yet final bylaw claims to recognize the importance of providing equitable access for all to the Gatineau River. It does nothing to provide equitable or fair access, since there is no requirement for the municipality to build new public docks for swimming and boating. It is likely that many docks will be removed if the bylaw is finalized. Less access, not more.
Cottagers and absentee landowners don't need to worry, however, as long as they don't apply to have their docks regularized since the bylaw applies only to “citizens of Chelsea” and “applicants” — How on earth could that provision have been passed? Leaving aside the fact that a town does not confer citizenship, why would seasonal residents have more rights than people who live here year-round?
As for the $500 annual fee, there is no clear statement of what that buys — is it the right to keep everyone else off that private dock built on public land or is it just a tax grab and deterrent? Why stop at $500 per year? Why not $5,000 or $5 million?? The fee should be commensurate with the goods or services provided and whatever those are, they should be clearly stated.
Why should a property owner who lives near the river have any more right to a dock than people who don't? Enough with entrenching bad status quo! I liked seeing green fields in the south part of Chelsea years ago, but that land is now being developed for housing. Things change. The people who own those new houses have as much right to easy access to the river as anyone else and, by the way, the property taxes paid in South Chelsea dwarf anything paid by dock owners. Everyone in Chelsea paid for that public land along the river. Taxation without representation just isn't right.
Building public docks with good road access and parking as well as Voie Verte access is the way forward. Until then, Chelsea council should consider making so-called private docks on our public land into docks for free use by the public a certain number of days of the week or weeks of the month.
For now, the dock bylaw needs to be withdrawn and rewritten.