Floating accommodations have increasingly become a problem for some municipalities, particularly in Southern Ontario. Local municipalities are hoping to prevent them from becoming an issue in Muskoka, too.
Any type of watercraft equipped for overnight use is considered floating accommodation, including houseboats, larger vessels with sleeping quarters, and barges with a cabin aboard. Regulation of their use is a complex issue encompassing all levels of government: Transport Canada oversees navigable waterways and watercraft safety, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, and Forestry (NDMNRF) controls recreational activities on public lands and waters, and municipalities must consider environmental concerns and impact on local residents including noise complaints.
NDMNRF recently asked municipalities for their input on “camping” on waterways and the use of floating accommodations over Ontario’s public lands.
Although no regulatory changes are currently proposed, comments submitted to the Ministry will inform future changes which would then be subject to a public consultation process.
Navigation of waterways is considered a public right, including reasonable moorage, and camping on public lands—including those covered by water—is permitted for free by residents of Ontario for up to 21 days.
But as other jurisdictions are seeing increased use of floating accommodations for both vacations as well as living quarters, some Muskoka municipalities are raising concerns.
Muskoka Lakes has indicated its desire for the province to prohibit floating accommodations. Huntsville councillors began discussing the matter at their March 30 general committee meeting, and have asked NDMNRF for the ability to provide input should the Ministry decide to legislate floating accommodations.
Lake of Bays council discussed the issue at its April 12 meeting, and will be forwarding a number of recommendations including that:
- Transport Canada require all vessel greywater to be discharged into a holding tank and disposed of as per Provincial regulations for new vessels.
- Transport Canada require all floating accommodations to conform to all Provincial and municipal regulations and bylaws.
- NDMNRF post notices to restrict floating accommodation/camping on the water in Southern Ontario (including Muskoka) and require a permit from the NDMNRF, which will not be granted without the consent of the local municipality.
- NDMNRF reduce the maximum camping duration from the current 21 days to seven days.
- NDMNRF not permit any camping on the water within 300m of a developed lot or within a narrow water body of 150m.
- NDMNRF allow local camping bylaws to take precedence should they be more restrictive.
Steve Watson, the Township’s director of building and bylaw services, noted that requiring an NDMNRF permit for floating accommodations would be a “quick fix” while governments determine what regulatory changes, if any, are required.
When outlining the recommendations, Lake of Bays Mayor Terry Glover said that he was shocked to learn that vessels are permitted to discharge greywater into lakes.
Blackwater, containing human waste, must go into a holding tank but dishwater, for example, can go directly into the lake. “If this was a building, I would charge someone for doing that,” noted Watson. “Vessels should not be exempt from provincial regulations.”
Glover also said that the municipality needs to be concerned about vessels anchoring near privately owned properties, emergency services access especially on smaller lakes, and noise generated by fireworks or parties on such vessels. “How are you going to regulate someone parked a few metres from your dock, having a good time?” he said. “And also the fact that they are not paying taxes and waterfront residents are paying taxes.”
Councillor Nancy Tapley agreed that the Township needs to “get ahead of this” issue, and questioned the feasibility of regulating greywater. “The average person uses 320 litres of water a day…that’s 2,000 litres of water per person at least [over seven days]. That’s going to be a honking big holding tank. We don’t have anywhere on shore that can take care of that, and our marinas are not set up to do that.”
Councillor Robert Lacroix wondered if large vessels could be prohibited from using municipal docks as a means of restricting their use.
Watson replied that not all lakes have municipal docks, and vessels could still launch from a marina.
Tapley also questioned where owners of these vessels would park their vehicles and trailers—”We don’t have overnight parking anywhere,” she said—and noted that most municipal docks couldn’t accommodate mooring of larger watercraft.
Councillor Jacqueline Godard suggested that water camping also be prohibited within 300m of privately owned, undeveloped land.
Glover said he was pleased with both the recommendations and subsequent discussion, and added that the Township was looking for “quick fixes for this summer” to prevent uses like floating short-term rentals.
Councillor Rick Brooks called the recommendations a great start, and said that “everyone is recognizing that it is a major concern going forward and we’re doing the best we can.”
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