MNBP Reporter’s Notebook — Fire Ban, Parks & Facilities Closed, Services Continue

By John Francis

It has been a crazy couple of months for Northern Bruce Peninsula’s Mayor, Milt McIver, but it may get crazier yet.

Longtime municipal CAO Bill Jones resigned at the end of January. Clerk Mary Lynn Standen has been Acting CAO since then (with Deputy Clerk Cathy Addison as alternate) but with Mary Lynn’s retirement scheduled for April 30, the Mayor needs to be up to speed on many things. (Note — Municipal Clerk is a title not a job description. The Clerk runs the organization on both a day-to-day and year-to-year basis, scheduling and organizing everything from elections to committee meetings to bylaws.)

With all of this in the wind — hire a new CAO, hire a new Clerk, oversee everything else in the municipality and finish budget deliberations — the COVID 19 situation arrived.

Mayor McIver agreed to a Saturday morning interview to bring me up to speed on recent developments.

The CAO recruitment process is going very well, he said. “We hope to have a new CAO in place by no later than the end of April.” The Clerk recruitment process will be initiated at a Council Meeting on April 14 and Council expects the new CAO to be involved.

The COVID 19 situation has generated a lot of controversy. Nice weather makes people think about the cottage, but local citizens are concerned that cottagers could bring COVID in from the cities and that they could overwhelm our health care system if they get sick. “I do see both sides of it,” the Mayor says, but he stresses the need to stay home until the emergency is over. “We’re hoping this is a temporary thing and asking cottagers to respect the health of our community and the limitations of our health care system.” He is disappointed that the Provincial action plan from April 3 did not make this mandatory. “A firm message to remain at your primary residence would have been helpful.” He hopes that those who do come to their cottages will quarantine in place for two weeks just like returning travellers. “We are all in this together and we all have to make sacrifices. We have to remember there is no cure and our only tool is prevention.”

He notes that COVID 19 has huge implications for our tourism economy. Losing a whole summer’s revenue would be devastating but he remains hopeful. He points out that when the regulations are lifted we will get very busy almost instantly. There are more than ten million people within a day’s drive of MNBP and when the bans are lifted, all of them will be looking for an impulse vacation.

“Are municipal marinas and boat launches going to be affected by COVID 19?” I asked. Mayor McIver replied that the province appears to have ordered marinas closed on April 3. Community Services Manager Ryan Deska is waiting for guidance from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans concerning harbours and boat launches and hopes to get a decision within a week or two.

“How about paid parking in Tobermory?” I asked the Mayor. “That’s a good question,” he replied. “I expect we’ll hear from Tobermory about that.”

MNBP staff provided excellent information about municipal facilities and services.

MNBP is in the process of enabling “virtual” Council Meetings, to allow Council Members, staff and the public to attend from home. Staff anticipate that a public link will be made available during the week of April 6-9. Watch the municipal website for news and login information. 

Concerning the pandemic, staff quote from the joint statement with the Peninsula Family Health Team: “NBP continues to encourage seasonal residents to follow the advice of the Federal and Provincial Governments and the Public Health Agency of Canada to stay at their primary residences. In these uncertain times, everyone must recognize that health care resources in rural Ontario are limited and, in fact, being away from your own health care team and home hospital is discouraged during a pandemic.”

What is the municipality doing/hoping to do to limit short-term rentals (or any rentals) during COVID?

The response comes from the same joint statement: “People appear to still be offering short term accommodation rentals in NBP even with the Provincial Government issuing stay-at-home orders. The Municipality urges all short-term accommodation rentals to cease immediately. Please be considerate of the health, safety and well-being of our residents.” A provincial regulation dated April 4, 2020 limits short-term rentals to “individuals who are in need of housing during the emergency period”. 

“Sandy Beach (Black Creek Provincial Park) is provincially owned, and thus closed by their decision. The municipality has an agreement to maintain the washroom facilities. Those are closed.” 

Will Lion’s Head Beach campground open this year?

“The opening of the campground has been deferred until June 1st. Council will re-assess this situation closer to the opening date to see what needs to be done.”

Will either marina open this year?

“We have been in conversation with both harbour masters and informed them that there may be delays to season opening, but we have not committed to that as yet. Council is going to continually re-assess the situation moving forward. We are proceeding with maintenance work in order to be ready if/when restrictions are lifted. The position of DFO and the Province will likely be the strongest determinants of what we are able to do. Unless it changes, currently gas stations for marine vessels are listed as an essential service. We will keep the pumps open on a call-in basis unless directed otherwise by the province.” 

There is a provincial fire ban in place. We presume this is an effort to address physical distancing for the responders. Staff agreed that they, too, assumed this was the reasoning but the only official explanation they could find from MNRF reads: “In order to ensure public safety and well-being during the COVID 19 outbreak, Ontario will implement a restricted fire zone for the entire fire region of the province…”

How will Municipal staffing and services be affected? “At the March 25, 2020, Council meeting, Council approved that half of the Public Works Department’s workforce work one week in isolation while the other half of the outside workforce remains at home with pay. Additionally, those Public Works staff members who are at home must be available on an on-call basis while they are off. The rotational workforce plan will be an alternating week schedule of which started on March 30 for two weeks. This will hopefully protect half of the work crew should a staff member become ill with COVID-19.” (The same arrangement may soon be implemented with administrative staff.)

“Staff is continuing to conduct essential maintenance, such as grading and sweeping, as well as other routine work to maintain the Minimum Maintenance Standards and to keep the roads safe for the public.”

What effects is it likely to have if it goes on for months?

“Council and Staff are continually re-assessing the situation as it progresses with the COVID-19 pandemic. Public Works staff will continue to provide essential maintenance (as noted above) while ensuring social distancing measures are adhered to and by providing isolated work projects where possible.” 

What is the status of the Isthmus Bay Road project?

“Staff is conducting its final review and revision of the Isthmus Bay Road Project Phase One tender. The current plan is to tender the work this spring with construction commencing in the fall.” 

Will garbage/recycling collection go ahead in normal fashion?

“As for now, Waste Management is continuing to provide curbside waste and recycling collection.

“Waste Management Canada is following its corporate COVID-19 policies and protocols for workplace sanitization, quarantine, material handling, and social distancing. They have noted that there may be truck capacity issues should participation in the curbside program increase. Additionally, there is the possibility that end markets will stop accepting material which may cause backlogs. It is critical that material be free of contamination items (liquids, food waste and non-acceptable items).”

Is there anything people should know?

“Waste Disposal Sites are closed to the public. The Lindsay Site remains open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for EXISTING ACCOUNT HOLDERS ONLY.

“If residents are conducting spring clean-ups they may have to stockpile items until the Waste Disposal Sites are opened to the public again.

“If residents have been exposed to or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, take extra precautions when placing waste and recyclable materials at the curb to help protect collection and processing staff.

“There continues to be a two-bag limit for curbside waste collection.”

The Municipal Office and all municipal buildings are closed to the public until further notice.

Thanks to Mary Lynn Standen, Cathy Addison, Ryan Deska, Troy Cameron and Kiersten Thompson for comprehensive and thoughtful answers.