By: Mike Anderson
Despite reopening some pubic amenities under Stage 2, the Town of Georgina will not reopen its waterfront parks and beaches on Canada Day, reversing an earlier decision by the Town.
“The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has decided that we will not be reopening our waterfront parks or our beaches prior to Canada Day,” said Ron Jenkins, Chief of Emergency Operations and Georgina Fire Chief, during his EOC update to the virtual Town Council on June 24.
“Opening our beaches would create challenges and concerns such as vehicle traffic, overcrowding, physical distancing. It would be difficult to mitigate. What seems to be happening is when something reopens, it’s not that it becomes busy. It becomes extremely busy.”
While Chief Jenkins did not rule out an eventual reopening, he said that a delay would allow Town staff to “further develop and strengthen our plan around waterfront parks to allow them to be a safe and welcoming place for our residents and visitors. Once we’re ready to reopen safely.”
The reversal follows a backlash from residents, who bombarded the Mayor, councillors and staff, with Facebook messages and emails opposing the Town’s plan to reopen its larger waterfront parks and beaches — Willow Beach, De La Salle and Holmes Point — to the public on July 1.
The reversal may have also been, in part, influenced by the recent move by the Town of South Bruce Peninsula to close Sauble Beach, after thousands of beach-goers, mostly day-trippers from the GTA, refused to maintain physical distancing and other restrictions over two weekends, overwhelming the Town’s bylaw officers and OPP.
“I have spoken to the Mayor of South Bruce Peninsula,” said Mayor Margaret Quirk. “She said they had very large crowds and have made the decision to close the beaches again. She doesn’t know when they will reopen.”
“Reopening brings a new set of challenges. We’re still in a pandemic. We still have to be concerned about the health and safety of our residents and our staff,” Mayor Quirk added.
“This may be the summer that you don’t get to sit and lay on the beach at De La Salle. Even if we reopen our beaches, it may be for access to the water only, not to spread your blanket and have your picnic, put your tent up, have your kids play in the sand. It’s not the kind of summer that we probably envisioned.”
At one point, Regional Councillor Rob Grossi, again, pushed to have the EOC consider resident-only parking at larger beaches, like De La Salle.
But CAO Dave Reddon argued the Town does not have the authority under the Municipal Act to make parking resident-only at waterfront parks.
He said that according to the Town’s solicitor, the municipality could face a Charter challenge from visitors who are denied parking.
Chief Jenkins also said that resident-only parking might also raise serious issues, including a heightened risk for staff facing irate visitors who aren’t allowed to park.
“Individuals at the gate would be confronted. People are driving an hour and a half to come up to Georgina. They’re not turning around and going home. They will be trying to access road ends. They’ll be trying to access private docks. There will be parking on side streets.”
However, Chief Jenkins did offer a compromise, indicating that some parking at waterfront parks could be allocated to residents-only.
“We are seriously looking at a portion of our parking lots being resident permit-only parking, that will help reduce the number of visitors going to the beach,” he said.
“So that we can have some comfort that we’re maintaining social distancing, as well as allowing the sanitization of the washrooms there.”
But he remained adamant that the beaches should remain closed until the Town could figure out how to control public access safely.
“We are going to continue to evaluate and reevaluate the situation as far as the pandemic itself, as well as the experience of what other beaches are having and the problems and challenges they have. And until we reach a point that we feel comfortable where we can safely open and control what I refer to as the uncontrollable, that’s the number of people; we will not reopen.”