Champlain Township’s Committee of the Whole voted last week to approve the hiring of a lifeguard to supervise swimmers each day between June 27 and August 30 next year. The vote, however, was not unanimous, after some councillors expressed concern that more complaints had been made about safety issues on the sand, rather than in the water.
Visitor numbers tripled at L’Orignal beach this year due to the COVID-19. The crowds forced the council to limit access to Champlain residents, with about 750 non-residents turned away between July 10 and September 12. Forty-five seasonal lots had also been booked at the adjacent campground for the 2021 summer, compared to 35 in 2020.
Parks and Recreation director Lisa Burroughs presented a recommendation to the committee last Tuesday calling for improvements to capitalize on that boosted traffic in 2021, provided COVID-19 did not remain an issue. She recommended that a lifeguard be hired to ensure visitors were safe, but advised against charging user fees in case demand fell below expectations.
“2021 should be more of a year of observation and tracking legitimate data that will then enable us to elaborate a more concise business plan moving forward,” the report said. “Also, given the layout of the park, there are numerous scenarios that would have to be considered. For example, if a visitor just wants to use the swings or if a user arrives on foot, do we charge a fee? Is the fee per person or per vehicle?”
The report expected the lifeguard would cost the township $9828 next year, part of which could be offset if the council allowed a food truck to set up near the beach during the summer. The hiring of a student to act as security or to charge user fees would cost an estimated $12,000.
Speaking in favour of the lifeguard proposal, Vankleek Hill ward councillor Peter Barton said the figure would reduce the need to hire additional security staff at the beach, while boosting safety in the water. West Hawkesbury ward councillor Sarah Bigelow said a lifeguard would provide both safety and security to those in the area.
“I believe having someone there like a lifeguard gives the feeling of someone being in charge,” she said. “It’s a safety issue as well. If a mom goes there with three kids, having that extra set of eyes out on the water is a good thing.”
L’Orignal ward councillor André Roy instead called for a student to be hired to monitor visitor numbers, as well as to charge user fees to non-residents next summer. He said most of the residents’ complaints stemmed from visitor numbers and both social distancing and bylaw breaches rather than water safety.
“The complaints that we did receive last summer were concerning the number of people present at the beach, and the non-respect of all the rules, either concerning COVID social distancing or the municipal bylaws such as smoking or cooking or having dogs loose,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “Unless we take control of the situation now, we will see the same problems arise again next summer, and we will face a lot of complaints from residents.”
Roy said user fees would help recoup costs from hiring the student, as well as student employment grants. He voted against the lifeguard recommendation, as did Longueuil ward councillors Violaine Tittley and Michel Lalonde. Councillors Barton and Bigelow voted in favour, as did L’Orignal ward councillor Jacques Lacelle, Vankleek Hill ward councillor Troy Carker, and West Hawkesbury ward councillor Gerry Miner.
The council was expected to formally adopt the recommendation at Thursday night’s regular meeting.