River rules up for review
FOG starts river law discussion, addresses concerns
Safety and the shoreline.
Those are the two things at the forefront of Friends of the Gatineau River’s push to review regulations on the river, said group president Rita Jain. The group wants to make the river between Paugan and Rapides-Farmer Dams safer for motorized and non-motorized boaters alike, while reducing shoreline erosion, by having Transport Canada review the regulations on the river that would take place after a period of consultation and analysis.
The first step in this process is for local authorities – in this case the municipalities bordering the river such as Low, Denholm, La Pêche, Chelsea, and Cantley – to give FOG permission to ask Transport Canada, which has authority over navigable waters, to review its regulations.
So far Chelsea and La Pêche have passed the resolutions submitted by FOG.
“Can I repeat? We are not banning boats,” Jain said in reference to misinformation spreading about the group’s push during a phone interview.
During the April 6 La Pêche council meeting, Vicki Kelly asked about FOG’s resolution on the agenda and information the group posted online. She said that FOG suggested limiting motors over 50 horsepower, but the information currently live on FOG’s website about this review doesn’t include this suggestion.
“I think this is penalizing safe, law-abiding boat owners,” Kelly told council.
She said that as a non-motorized boater and waterfront resident, she shares FOG’s concerns about safety and the shoreline, but expressed concerns about the timeline of the consultation and analysis process and how FOG seems to have the solutions to these problems already in mind before the process takes place.
“This is a very short consultation [period] during a pandemic,” Kelly said, reading directly from the FOG’s presentation on the subject, which states that the consultation period will take place between now and July, and includes submitting a formal application to Transport Canada by September 15. New rules could come into effect for the 2022 boating and swimming season.
“I would say that’s aspirational,” councillor Claude Giroux said during the meeting about that timeline.
“I feel [FOG] has solutions and they want to get to them,” Kelly added.
FOG’s website includes four examples of options for regulatory changes. These include: expanding the 10 km/h speed limit zone from 30 metres within shore to 150 metres; decreasing the speed limit outside of the 10 km/h zone from 55 to 35 km/h; banning jet skis and wake boats; and charging launch fees at river boat ramps based on horsepower.
However, Jain noted in her interview that these are just benchmarks and ideas — the consultation and analysis to come will dictate what will be in the application for regulatory review to Transport Canada.
“We just want everyone to get along. What we have to do is minimize the negative impacts on the river,” she said.
FOG’s role in the past
This isn’t the first time that FOG has waded into these controversial waters.
It was instrumental in the push during the late ‘90s to set the current speed limit on the river, which is 55 km/h over 30 metres from the shore, but 10 km/h within 30 metres of the shore. Before then, there were natural deterrents to high boat traffic and speeds.
Besides the treacherous, and still unmarked sand bars or occasional foundations of buildings flooded after the construction of the dams, there were “dead heads.”
Back during the logging boom, logs were floated down the river, but some never made it to their destination. These logs would become waterlogged, floating nearly vertical in the river, with one end bobbing above the surface. The practice of floating logs down river ended in 1991. As the dead heads became less prevalent, more motor boaters took to the river.
FOG, which has been around since 1991, became concerned about the development and maintenance of the river in the late ‘90s and started pushing for regulations on the river, eventually getting the current speed limits set, though those are over what group members at the time wished for.
“It’s unbelievably fast,” FOG member and executive board member in the late-’90s Neil Faulkner said recently.
“We were pleased to get something rather than nothing because it was contested by Sea-Doo-ers and water skiers,” he added.
But the river remains dangerous, Faulkner said. During periods of low flow there are invisible sand bars, rocks, and foundations and also a few remaining dead heads. He said that the old logs now float out of sight under the water’s surface, but well within reach of the boot of an unlucky engine.
For more information, visit fog-arg.org.