By Terry Cowan
In response to Lake of Bays wants Ministry to restrict floating accommodations , April 12, 2022.
In regards to all the different town councils’ concerns in the Muskoka region over the use of floating accommodations on waterways, I would like to add some input to consider.
A non-navigable floating structure is not the same thing as a houseboat or liveaboard boat. They are generally a structure or building constructed on top of floats and are not self-powered. They rely on a tugboat to move them if necessary, and are connected to municipal water and sewer systems. Toronto Harbour, Victoria Harbour, and other cities around the world have some of these types of structures/vessels and they are regulated by the cities they are in. They generally pay a higher tax rate to the cities than residential properties and additionally pay for the docking fees to the harbour. We don’t have these types of structures in Muskoka.
The closest type of structure to the non-navigable floating structures that we have here are boathouses that include residential accommodations, are regulated by building and planning departments in our towns, and are taxed along with the properties they are constructed on. Many localities no longer permit the construction of these types of boathouses.
In regards to houseboats, liveaboard boats and smaller overnight “camping” boats, please consider the following.
Most of the boats the size that the councils seem concerned about (liveaboards and houseboats) can’t make it to the lakes here as they are too large to go on highways for transport. They can’t get north of the Severn Waterway.
That’s why we don’t usually see these kinds of boats here.
When was the last time you actually saw a houseboat here? If you did, were they making a lot of noise and causing problems mooring at town docks, indiscriminately dumping wastewater, or dropping anchor near people’s cottages, docks, and waterfront homes? On the other hand, how many jet skis and speed boats are out making a racket, bothering paddlers and other boaters, or destroying docks and shorelines with their wake. How about party barge pontoon boats that are everywhere? How many people are drinking alcohol or using THC-based products and then taking their boats out? Unlicensed and uninsured operators? Lots. These are real problems.
What about the fireworks issue [Lake of Bays] Mayor Terry Glover addressed? I hear them going off most nights throughout the summer and it used to scare the crap out of my dog. But I hear them fired off in the town where I live in Gravenhurst, and from cottagers, not from houseboats. However, I suppose they could be fired off from houseboats, if there were any here, so that could be a legitimate issue. Probably just easier to ban fireworks, if it’s really a problem.
Boats that can actually transport to the lakes here don’t have sufficient holding tanks for freshwater supply in regards to having “320 litres of water a day per person” to use and dispose of, and are really only large enough to stay in overnight, not live aboard. I don’t think I have ever personally used 320 litres of water in a day, let alone every day as claimed by Councillor Nancy Tapley. If my household used 320 litres a day per person, I would be paying more than the $65.00 a month for our water and sewer that I just paid yesterday. However, Nancy’s numbers do reflect an average water household usage according to US government figures. But this is for households, not boats.
Boats that have a head and kitchen also have both grey and blackwater holding tanks. Generally freshwater tanks on larger boats hold 50-100 litres (water is used very sparingly), grey at 50-100 litres, and black at 50-100 litres. Similar to RVs that are everywhere. Are RVs a problem with dumping sewage indiscriminately? There are fines if you get caught doing that, and there are facilities both provincial and private to pump out the sewage easily and appropriately. Most people that have liveaboard boats—Great Loopers for example—respect the waters they are on and would never dump waste water. Some cottagers on the other hand do. Primarily grey water from their cottage. I’ve seen it many times.
An issue stemmed from Georgian Bay primarily, as I researched it. The actual issue that may have started it all wasn’t from houseboats from my understanding. The problem occurred when people near the water had too many outbuildings and were told to remove them. They started putting the outbuildings (sometimes shipping containers) on floats and anchoring or tying them to their docks, which has understandably gone over poorly with other residents and town officials. Some of the buildings are supposedly saunas that have showers that dump grey water into the lake, and some are bunkies. Not the houseboats or liveaboards that travel through the area every summer.
In addition, dealing with Transport Canada in regards to marine vessels is serious business for vessel operators. It’s more like dealing with the military, which is a good thing. There are federal and provincial regulations to be followed and if you don’t you will quickly be in big trouble. Officers from Transport Canada or the OPP can board your vessel anytime, and it better be in order.
Orillia and Barrie have lots of the larger liveaboard boats, sailboats, and yachts that dock and use town facilities that they pay for. Both cities make good revenue from this and don’t have a problem with it. The boats pay far more for the slip and docking fees daily than the residents pay in taxes on a one-to-one basis. They don’t have a problem with people dumping waste water, it is pumped out at the marinas where the boats also refill their freshwater tanks, and pay for the service. The people on the boats also provide revenue to the local businesses. This occurs all along the Severn Waterway and The Great Loop, all the way down to the southern US. The cities, towns, and docking facilities generate good income from this, and wouldn’t want to give it up.
Cities and countries all around the world have people living on canal boats, sailboats, and yachts, especially in the UK and Europe. They have done so for over a century, and seem fine with it. So, what’s our problem?
The problem here is a crisis that is imaginary and totally blown out of proportion. The comments of the council have no basis in reality. These are musings that are hyped way out of context like bad journalism and passed off as legitimate concerns with no real foundation. This in turn riles up the local populace over nothing. It’s a long way off from the simple request for input from the NDMNRF.
I would rather see our local politicians focus their energy and the taxpayers money on real issues, like fentanyl and opioid addictions, overdoses, and deaths in our region. How about physical and mental abuse issues, homelessness, and affordable housing, lack of basic needs like decent food and clothes, or year-round employment. These are real problems—not the hordes of imaginary houseboats all over the lakes in Muskoka.
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