Posted on July 11, 2016 | Jean-Paul Murray | Written on July 10, 2016
Letter type:

Author's Note:

Author's Note:

The media are completely silent on serious problems affecting the Meech Lake shoreline in Gatineau Park, and the federal government is neglecting its responsibilities.   

Chelsea, July 10, 2016 -- The municipality of Chelsea has confirmed it will conduct shoreline inspections along the northeastern section of Meech Lake the week of July 11-15. Inspections will determine whether cottagers are complying with a variety of shoreline protection bylaws on building setbacks, renaturalization and septic sewage.

In 2013 and 2015, Chelsea conducted exhaustive shoreline inspections at Meech Lake, noting among other things that 119 structures had been built without permits. The majority of those structures, 79 of them, were built on the lakebed, which, by virtue of a 1973 land exchange with the province of Quebec, belongs to the federal government.

Building without permits has had serious repercussions for at least one Meech Lake cottager. In 2014, the municipality of Chelsea ordered demolition of two sheds and a shoreline veranda at 850 Meech Lake Road. Since then, Chelsea Mayor Caryl Green has told local media that any shoreline structure for which a building permit cannot be produced will have to be torn down.

In the past, Chelsea had often excused illegal shoreline constructions by saying residents had grandfathered rights. But when asked if it had any evidence that these 119 structures were protected by acquired rights, the municipality said:  “We possess no documentary evidence (permits) proving that these properties (55 docks and platforms, 24 boathouses and 40 other structures located on the shoreline) hold an acquired right. We are currently waiting for documents the owners must provide to prove they enjoy an acquired right. Some owners, who have asked for a copy of the latest inspection report regarding their property [...] and who have been informed that their properties are non-compliant, are currently in the process of looking for the required documents. As for the others, we will begin inspecting shoreline strips next week.”

It’s worth noting that the Quebec government says any person who claims to hold an acquired right must be able to provide documentary evidence proving it. The province also says no acquired rights proceed from illegal construction and that there are no acquired rights where the environment is concerned.

Besides illegal shoreline construction, some Meech Lake properties threaten the environment because of faulty septic tanks. A 2015 shoreline inspection report confirmed that at least two Meech Lake residents have been warned about defective septics—at 887 and 925 Meech Lake Road. Moreover, according to documents obtained through access to information, cottages located along the northeastern shore of Meech Lake—those targeted for inspection this week— aren’t covered by Chelsea’s program for emptying septic tanks, since there is no road access to them... So where does the spillover sewage go?

Inspections are likely to take a few weeks, and Chelsea has confirmed that reports and recommendations “will be sent to all shoreline residents” once they have been completed. It would be hard to imagine that those recommendations won’t include some demolition orders, like the one Chelsea sent to the owner at 850 Meech Lake Road in 2014.

But the responsibility for this mess isn’t Chelsea’s alone. The NCC, the Minister of Heritage, and local members of Parliament are directly concerned by these inspections, since the federal government owns the property on which 79 of the 119 illegal shoreline structures are built. Although they have an obligation to tell us what they think of all these illegal docks, platforms and boathouses, all they’ve done so far is refuse to answer questions from the press, as confirmed by the West Quebec Post on May 13, and Radio-Canada on July 9...  

In its latest Gatineau Park Status Report, the NCC noted that Meech Lake’s shoreline suffers from “major degradation,” affecting almost 16% of the perimeter. And according to a 1988 study conducted for the NCC (Dryade), at least 66% per cent of the human-produced phosphorous going into Meech Lake comes from shoreline dwellings. Phosphorous is the leading cause of blue green algae, which forced closure of Meech Lake to the public in 2007 and 2009...

Time for the federal government to put skin in the game.

Photo: shed at 850 Meech Lake Road. Its veranda was demolished by order from the municipality of Chelsea. Two other sheds were also torn down.

About The Author

Jean-Paul Murray's picture

A writer, certified/literary translator and communications specialist with nearly 25 years experience working on Parliament Hill. In 2015, Ekstasis Editions published his translation of Robert Lalonde's Little... More