Should the L’Orignal beach be for the exclusive use of Champlain residents? If not, should residents from other municipalities pay to use the beach?
Those were the topics of a lengthy debate at a special council meeting on June 25.
The upshot was – despite a few weekends described as “out of control”, where there was smoking, alcohol consumption, barbecues, dogs not on leashes and crowds of more than 10 people not practicing physical distancing — the beach will remain open, but under tighter supervision.
The Hawkesbury OPP have been asked to do regular patrols at the L’Orignal Beach, and municipal bylaw officers will be “blitzing” the beach to keep residents safe and the beach safe, according to Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel.
“It’s a new world and we are trying to manoeuvre through with the tools that we have,” said Riopel.
Riopel emphasized that residents have paid for the infrastructure at the beach and that is why everyone must respect the rules.
In 2019, a donation from the L’Orignal Knights of Columbus helped to pay for beach upgrades. The installation of five palapas (beach umbrellas), a retaining wall and five beach lounge chairs were built and installed, new picnic tables were added and the beach was enlarged as more sand was added. (A commemorative plaque was added to thank the Knights of Columbus for their financial donation.)
But L’Orignal Councillor André Roy thought that more immediate action should be taken. He visited the beach on the weekend and described it as “out of control”. Limiting access to Champlain residents was one of his suggestions and failing that, he suggested charging outsiders who want to spend time on the beach.
Riopel’s reply was that there have been two really hot weekends and that with the increased supervision, he thinks people will get in line.
West Hawkesbury councillor Gerry Miner agreed with Roy, but suggested waiting one more weekend, with additional check-ins by OPP and bylaw staff, to see if the situation improved.
“But I think if we need a special meeting to make a different decision, we should do that,” Miner said.
Longueuil Councillor Violaine Tittley also visited the beach on the weekend and noted that there were groups of adults and “no social distancing” was in place.
She took it upon herself to contact Brownsburg-Chatham to see how that municipality was managing its beach. That municipality is limiting beach access to residents, she reported.
“For me, the pandemic is not finished. We should limit access to Champlain residents and our camping renters and require a proof of residence,” she said.
The Champlain Township employee at the beach was overloaded, says Tittley, according to what she saw.
West Hawkesbury ward councillor Sarah Bigelow said that it might be worth checking to see who was breaking the rules. It might be one or two bad apples, she said.
Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Burroughs agreed with Bigelow and said that the township does have signs posted that the beach is unsupervised. And as the mayor says, everyone has to be responsible, Burroughs added.
Burroughs questioned the needs that would have to be met, such as a shelter, a gate, etc. and someone on duty to take payments if an identification check and admission charges for non-residents were introduced.
Roy mentioned that the letter of complaint received by the township was from one of the campers, adding that he would hate to lose revenue from campers if they leave their sites.
Roy recounted visiting the parking lot and counting four cars from Quebec out of the total seven cars parked there and visited on another day and noted that the majority of cars were not from the area.
“I had calls from people saying that all the cars in the parking lot were from Quebec,” Roy said, referring to other examples.
“I have expressed my opinion. I say give people a chance, but it is important to take a decision and I have done that. We are not set up to police it at this time and I don’t think it is the time to enact (more measures). We live in a beautiful community and we should encourage them to come. I hear you. I just don’t think it’s the time for that,” Riopel said.
Discussion continued about how long to try the new measures to see if the beach rules would be followed by visitors.
Council will be waiting for feedback from Burroughs as to how the next weekend or two goes.
“We have to play with the temperature,” Riopel said, referring to the potential heat waves that could boost attendance at the beach.
Council’s next regular meeting is August 13, but there seemed to be a possibility of an extra meeting in the meantime if issues continue at the L’Orignal Beach.