Assiginack residents initiate petition against proposals in waterfront development project


MANITOWANING—Assiginack’s proposed waterfront project in the vicinity of Bay Street has prompted an area couple to start a petition. Anna and Ben Peca point to excessive traffic and other concerns, with no public input provided on the proposal. However, a representative of Assiginack council says the plans are not yet ready to be presented to the public as they haven’t been completed.

“This is a conceptual plan that was accepted by council, but the plan hasn’t been completed yet,” stated Mayor Dave Ham at a council meeting last week.

The Pecas attended that council meeting to voice their concerns, as well as the previous council meeting. “As a recap and continuation of the concerns we have regarding the development and/or extension of Bay Street,” Ms. Peca told council, “one, we own the property facing Manitowaning Bay between Plummer Street and Bay Street South. Two, to do any maintenance on our property at the end of Bay Street South, we need to access it from Bay Street South.”

For many years, the Pecas have cut the grass on the road and picked up brush so they could access their property, Ms. Peca explained. “No maintenance has been done by the municipality for 18 to 20 years. The road was closed by the last council but allowance was made to adjacent property owners to access their properties at the lakefront. Cones and signs were placed on the roadway to deter traffic.”

The road is disintegrating at the beach area because of poor construction, grading and water drainage, they say. “Trees have fallen onto the road and water collects from either water main leaks, drainage issues or culverts not being cleaned out.”

Ms. Peca said the road is dangerous to both walk or drive on in its present state, and emergency vehicles would not be able to access the area in the event of a fire or other emergency. The Pecas had attended the previous council meeting to determine the municipality’s plan for Bay Street South “given that they had recruited JL Richards to revisit and cost out the 2001 waterfront study which included relocating the beach south of the gazebo, expanding boat slips from 12 to 50, and making minimal improvements to the Norisle site, according to the costing report by JL Richards included in the council minutes of November 18, 2021.”

She referred to the minutes of the economic development committee meeting on November 23, 2021 in which the number of boat slips was expanded from 12 to 100, with the beach being moved even further south down Bay Street, and Bay Street extended to Lecourt Street with the public works department building using a lane-and-a-half seasonal road to exit through a residential area with small children in the vicinity and disposing of the SS Norisle.”

She noted that Councillor (Hugh) Moggy commented on the need to inform the general public. “I viewed the Zoom session online before it was removed from YouTube,” she said.

The council minutes of May 17, 2022 show that JL Richards was paid $15,250 for a conceptual drawing of the lakefront development, including a roadway extension to Lecourt or Plummer Street using the existing Bay Street right of way, Ms. Peca said. “The scope of the project changed once more but not within council or committee meetings. This time, it included our undeveloped lakefront between Bay Street and Plummer Street, which has a forest of cedars, apples and pears, a main drainage culvert running through to the bay and my buried water line with us being the only residence without municipal water in the area, but that’s another story.”

She told council there were no site visits by the engineer or municipal staff, nor was any information relayed to the Pecas or their neighbours about the development. “I noticed today that another $1,723 has been paid to JL Richards for waterfront development conceptual drawings on June 21, 2022,” she added. “Where are these drawings? When will they be presented to the public? Given this series of unfortunate events, what is your obligation as a municipal council/municipality to be transparent and accountable to your constituents and taxpayers?”

The petitioners want Bay Street South to be kept and maintained as is: a seasonal single-lane gravel roadway, primarily for pedestrians, that allows for adjacent property owners to access their lots with a vehicle for maintenance. They ask the municipality to maintain the roadway by: determining and correcting drainage or water leak issues, cleaning out the culverts and filling the holes on the road starting at the marina; cutting down and disposing of the trees/brush that have fallen and are obstructing the roadway; cutting the grass on the roadway biweekly; and placing cones or a barrier at the entrance of the road to specify that it is a pedestrian walkway or is only open to local traffic or emergency vehicles.

“I made comments at the last council meeting,” said Councillor Rob Maguire. “I met your husband and we walked Bay Street and your property. I don’t know what to say. We looked at some of the items you brought up. For instance, the concern with drainage is being investigated.”

The township is missing an opportunity for a beautiful walkway, Ms. Peca noted. “Instead of a bridge to High Falls, this should have been developed as a walkway.”

Mayor Ham stated that while work on the conceptual plan was accepted by council, nothing has been done and Councillor Christianna Jones noted the area in question is a municipal road.

Ms. Peca said council is not responding to their constituents’ needs and should be investing money in infrastructure.

“That is what the proposed marina improvement project is about,” said Councillor Jones. Some of the drainage issues were addressed in the original report, she added, and the beach was just to be moved to the other side south of the present beach. “The debate is we don’t have enough parking in the summer for the marina.”

Additional municipal property by the marina is “all part of the discussion and will be part of the structural conceptual plans being done,” Ms. Jones added.

Mr. Peca wondered whether the municipality had considered what happens to a relocated beach if a sewer backs up.

“I have expressed my concerns on any environmental issues,” Councillor Jones replied. “You can’t just dump sand and say we have a beach here.”

Ms. Peca again challenged council, noting the plans specified two way driving down Bay Street and referred to a previous story in The Expositor regarding $2.1 million in funding needed to bring the marina up to 50 slips. “Now there’s a two-way road up Bay Street, or up my street,” she said. “Where are these decisions being made?”

“The plans are in the hands of the engineers at this point,” Mayor Ham told Ms. Peca. He said he hasn’t seen the plans yet and no decision has been made whatsoever.

“We’re not trying to create danger but better (traffic) flowing areas,” said Councillor Maguire. He said he has no problem with an upgrade to the marina, but is against a two-lane road, and there needs to be (public) input.

“The marina project is designed to be a benefit to the community,” Councillor Maguire said. He favoured a one-and-a-half lane seasonal road that wasn’t across the Peca property. “The whole area should be something to benefit from, like a walking area. I don’t want to see an impact on ratepayers.” He agreed he could see a park-like setting in the area.