Skip to main content

Jackson encouraged after meeting minister about Sauble Beach, plovers

Grey-Bruce This Week,
By Denis Langlois
Thu Feb 7 2019

South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson says she’s “very encouraged” after a meeting with Ontario‘s environment minister, that the town and province will be able to solve the longstanding beach maintenance issue at Sauble Beach.

“With the new PC government comes a new opportunity to resolve the issue away from a trial,” she said in an interview.

A delegation from the town, along with Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Progressive
Conservative MPP Bill Walker, met with MPP Rod Phillips, minister of the environment, conservation and parks, on Jan. 29 at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference in Toronto.

Jackson said the town is hoping the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry will drop the two charges it laid against South Bruce Peninsula in 2018, which alleged the town’s beach maintenance work during two periods in 2017 damaged piping plover habitat.

The other objective, she said, is for the province and town to resolve the beach
maintenance issue by negotiating and agreeing to a comprehensive beach management plan, which will allow the town to cultivate and groom the sand at Sauble while ensuring the endangered piping plovers are protected.

Jackson said she believes Phillips shares the town’s vision of having “healthy cohabitation at the beach between tourists, the plovers and our residential community.”

She said the minister also seemed to understand how important the beach is as an economic driver for the town. “We shared a common desire to put a comprehensive beach management plan in place. We both saw eye to eye with many goals,” she said. “It was refreshing to meet with him and I felt there was a desire to resolve this.”

The town is scheduled to be in Provincial Offences court Feb. 13 for a pretrial hearing on the MNRF charges. Jackson has said the town does not believe it has ever harmed piping plover habitat and maintains that the shorebirds actually prefer to nest on a clean beach. Although Jackson is hoping the charges can be resolved outside of court, she said the town is prepared to move forward with the case if that doesn’t happen.

“We feel we have a strong case and we’re certainly not afraid to present that case on behalf of the people,” she said. “But for obvious reasons, financial being the primary one, you certainly want to avoid a trial if you can.”

Jackson said after the 2014 municipal election, the town and MNRF worked out a verbal agreement that would allow South Bruce Peninsula to till the beach before the piping plovers arrive at Sauble in mid-April and after the chicks fledge in mid-August, but not between those times. But she said the MNRF refused to put anything in writing.

“And then all of a sudden, somehow, the ministry changed their view and the situation did a complete 180,” she said. “There’s been general frustration for the last four years. When you feel that you have the approval and support from the ministry to do the work that you’ve been doing, in conjunction with letters that say thank you for doing such a great job protecting plover habitat, and then all of a sudden you get slapped with two charges, it’s pretty disconcerting.”

The South Bruce Peninsula delegation, which also included Deputy-mayor Jay  Kirkland and town chief administrative officer Brad McRoberts, met with Phillips because the town has been advised that his ministry now has the final say over a potential beach management plan instead of the MNRF.

Along with the two charges it laid against the town, the MNRF also issued a stop order in late March that prevented the town from raking, grading, excavating and any other activities resulting in the removal, alteration or damage of vegetation or dunes at certain portions of Sauble Beach.

The order was made on the grounds “that the activities in question at the locations specified will damage or destroy the habitat of the piping plover.”
A provincial hearing was held in October on the stop order. Jackson said the outcome of the hearing is now largely moot because the order expired Dec. 31.

“However, it certainly enabled us to get a sneak preview of the government’s position going into trial if that’s the route that we end up taking. So it was certainly beneficial for us to go through that hearing,” she said. Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature, represented by Ecojustice lawyers, participated in the hearing and asked the hearing officer to uphold the stop order.

The groups allege that the town’s continued practice of beach grooming harms piping plover habitat and does not comply with the Endangered Species Act’s requirement to preserve and protect endangered species’ habitat.