This summer, Huntsville staff will be cracking down on docks that do not have permission to be located on municipal lands.
At its May 25 meeting, Huntsville council approved a revamped licence of occupation policy to deal with such docks in order to mitigate the municipality’s liability.
According to municipal staff, the Town currently owns 57 public docks that have signs noting that they’re for public use. They are maintained and insured by the municipality and are located at the Town dock (40 docks), at South Portage, Riverview Estates, Riverlea, Port Sydney Beach (2), Memorial Park (2), Longs Lake, Goodwin Park, Brunel Locks, Avery Beach (2), Lakewood Park, Roe Road (2), Cheese Dock in Port Sydney, and Lake Waseosa.
There are also eight private docks on municipal lands that are permitted through a licence of occupation.
Director of operations and protective services, Steve Hernen, explained to council that the owners of those private docks pay an annual fee, and are responsible for maintaining the docks to proper standards and naming the municipality in their homeowners’ insurance policy.
But there are other docks on public lands being used both privately and publicly that have not been approved by the Town. Those are the docks staff are trying to address.
Docks erected on municipal lands for private use will have to comply with the municipality’s policies. The owners, who must own adjacent property, will have to apply for a licence of occupation, ensure their dock complies with municipal standards, name the municipality on their insurance, and pay an annual fee, said Hernen.
“We would provide a letter giving them 30 days to apply for a licence of occupation. Once the application is filed, it’ll go through the process and will either be approved, and they’ll have to pay the fees and insurance and maintain it. If it’s not approved, they’ll have to remove the dock,” he added. “If we post [a notice]on the dock and nobody comes forth to claim ownership of it, we would simply remove the dock, and that would be the process we’d follow.”
Hernen estimated that there are approximately 15 or 16 private docks on municipal lands that have not undergone the licence of occupation process, and said more had been brought to light since the staff report was compiled. If they’re added to the eight the municipality already has on its books, he said they could generate $20,000 to $25,000 in annual revenue. That revenue could offset the cost of taking on more public docks.
Hernen said if docks have been erected on public lands that are being used by the public they will not require a licence of occupation, but those who built them or use them would have to go before council and make a case for their approval. If they’re approved, the municipality would take ownership of them, maintain them, insure them, and post signage noting that they’re for public access. Likewise, the same procedure would apply if community members want a dock on municipal lands: they’d have to seek council approval.
“That way we’re maintaining a level of standard, a level of care which would reduce our liability,” said Hernen.
“The bottom line is dock season is here. We need an approval process to deal with these docks on public land in order that we can take action to limit the Town’s exposure,” he added. “I can tell you right now, between these public docks and these private docks, they’re sitting on Town property and in total we’re probably sitting in excess of 20 of these docks today that we’re aware of… If something happens on them today, the Town could be held liable because we are aware of them and we haven’t taken action to date.”
Councillor Jonathan Wiebe questioned whether the 30-day rule was hard and fast. He said even if no one claims the dock, council might decide that it’s a good place to have one for public use.
“What staff is thinking is we post a dock that’s on public property and they have to get council permission. We hope that somebody from the community in a 30-day period—we’re not posting in January, they’ll be posted in June and July—somebody would come forth to council and make that request on behalf of the community that it’s a good access point, and this is the reason why that dock is there, and here’s the benefits of it and council would make a decision on it,” said Hernen. “We recognize it’s going to take some time to get in front of council so that 30-day rule is not hard as long as we know that an application has been made to delegate before council, we would sort of put the brakes on anything of the removal until council had a chance to hear from the applicant.”
Councillor Jason FitzGerald questioned what would happen to those who’ve had a dock for many years and have, for example, made a deal with the Town in exchange for parking. “Keeping in mind that if… staff is going to bring forth a report denying a dock, we’ll certainly indicate the reasoning why and it’s always up to council,” said Hernen, adding that if council want to overrule a staff recommendation it is certainly within its rights.
Council approved the policy change.
You can find staff’s PowerPoint presentation here (PDF).
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