Ministry matters

Lake of Bays wants the ministry to restrict floating accommodation

Floating homes have increasingly become a problem for some municipalities, particularly in southern Ontario. Local municipalities are hoping to prevent them from becoming a problem in Muskoka as well.

Any type of craft equipped for night use is considered floating accommodation, including houseboats, larger vessels with sleeping quarters, and barges with a cabin on board. Regulating their use is a complex issue involving all levels of government: Transport Canada oversees waterways and watercraft safety, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (MRNDMN) controls recreational activities on public lands and waters, and municipalities must consider environmental concerns and the impact on local residents, including noise complaints.

NDMNRF recently asked the municipalities for their opinion on “camping” on waterways and the use of floating accommodation on Ontario public lands.

Although no regulatory changes are currently proposed, comments submitted to the ministry will inform future changes which will then be subject to a public consultation process.

Navigation on waterways is considered a public right, including reasonable mooring, and camping on public lands, including those covered by water, is permitted free of charge by Ontario residents up to 21 days.

But while other jurisdictions are seeing increased use of floating homes for vacation and housing, some municipalities in Muskoka are raising concerns.

Muskoka Lakes has indicated its wish that the province ban floating accommodation. Councilors in Huntsville began discussing the issue at their general committee meeting on March 30 and asked the NDMNRF for the ability to contribute if the ministry decides to legislate on floating housing.

Lake of Bays Council discussed the issue at its April 12 meeting and will forward a number of recommendations, including:

  • Transport Canada requires that all gray water from vessels be discharged into a holding tank and disposed of in accordance with provincial regulations for new vessels.
  • Transport Canada requires that all floating facilities comply with all provincial and municipal rules and regulations.
  • The NDMNRF posts notices to restrict floating accommodation/on-water camping in southern Ontario (including Muskoka) and requires a permit from the NDMNRF, which will not be granted without the consent of the local municipality.
  • The NDMNRF reduces the maximum camping duration from the current 21 days to seven days.
  • The NDMNRF does not allow camping on water within 300m of a serviced lot or in a 150m narrow body of water.
  • The NDMNRF allows local camping regulations to prevail if they are more restrictive.

Steve Watson, director of building and regulatory services for the township, noted that requiring a permit from the NDMNRF for floating accommodation would be a “quick fix” while governments determine what regulatory changes, if any, are needed. .

While presenting the recommendations, Lake of Bays Mayor Terry Glover said he was shocked to learn that ships are allowed to dump gray water into the lakes.

Black water, containing human waste, must go into a retention tank, but dishwater, for example, can go directly into the lake. “If it was a building, I would charge someone to do it,” Watson noted. “Vessels should not be exempt from provincial regulations.

Glover also said the municipality needs to be concerned about ships anchored near private property, access for emergency services, especially on small lakes, and noise generated by fireworks or parties on these ships. “How are you going to regulate someone parked a few feet from your dock, having a good time?” he said. “And also the fact that they don’t pay taxes and the locals pay taxes.”

Councilor Nancy Tapley agreed the township needed to “get ahead of this problem” and questioned the feasibility of regulating gray water. “The average person uses 320 liters of water a day…that’s 2,000 liters of water per person at least [over seven days]. It’s going to be a big honking holding tank. We don’t have anywhere on land that can handle that, and our marinas aren’t designed for that.

Councilor Robert Lacroix wondered if it was possible to prohibit large ships from using municipal wharves in order to restrict their use.

Watson replied that not all lakes have municipal docks and ships can still launch from a marina.

Tapley also asked where the 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 could not not accommodate the mooring of larger boats.

Councilor Jacqueline Godard suggested that water camping should also be prohibited within 300 m of undeveloped private land.

Glover said he was pleased with both the recommendations and the discussions that followed, and added that the township was looking for “quick fixes for this summer” to prevent uses such as short-term floating rentals.

Councilor Rick Brooks called the recommendations a good start and said “everyone recognizes that this is a major concern going forward and we are doing our best”.

Public comments, including responses to the questions asked on the NDMNRF newslettermay be provided to the Department before April 19, 2022 at [email protected]

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