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Council votes to close Colchester Beach


- closure will remain until proper safety guidelines can be developed -


by Sylene Argent

At the conclusion of the Emergency Council Meeting on Monday evening, a majority vote from Town of Essex Council members will temporarily close Colchester Beach until better guidelines, such as until bathrooms are open and there is proper signage, can be developed to protect the community from the spread of COVID-19 and address other issues.

  It was noted during the meeting, up to 1000 visitors enjoyed the beach on Saturday, which made it difficult for individuals to practice social distancing.

  “We will close it, but we will get right on doing what we have to do to get it back open again. I think we are really showing leadership in all the municipalities right now. I think they are looking at this and I think we are doing a good job,” Essex Mayor Larry Snively said, adding the Colchester Beach was opened too soon and the Town wasn’t ready for the crowd.

  CAO Chris Nepszy explained there were large gatherings on Friday evening, including high school grad parties from schools in Windsor. The OPP did attend a few times during the day and at night.

  Snively said some of the staff, young women, were afraid of some of the things that have happened at Colchester Beach.

  As a result, the Town had two officers on Saturday and Sunday for twelve-hour shifts, outside of the contract. The extra policing was additional to what the Town pays annually, to the tune of up to $5000. The idea was to get through the weekend, so Council could discuss the matter on Monday evening. Nepszy explained the additional cost was because the OPP contract with the Town never focused on having fulltime work at one location for an entire shift.

  Nepszy said he and Director of Community Services, Doug Sweet, attended the Colchester Beach on Saturday. “It was different. It definitely was busy,” he said. The police, he added, were restricting people from playing active sports, and from using Hookahs and vapes. He said the OPP did a good job and came through for the Town on short notice.

  Snively said there was a tremendous amount of people on Saturday and social distancing was not happening. “Are we going to take leadership out of our municipalities and act on this COVID virus,” he asked, adding it only takes one person to affect many.

  In addition to the social distancing issue noticed at the Colchester Harbour over the weekend, Sweet said there are parking issues. There are currently seven parking lots in area. He said the Town is trying to accommodate all users, which has been a challenge in the past. He said there are currently cars being parking in areas they should not be, including in areas designated for boat trailers, cars being parked in the wrong direction in angled parking area, and parking on the street where they shouldn’t be.

  Part of the issue is that there needs to be a bylaw created on what the Town’s parking restriction are. There are parking challenges, there are signs, but the Town cannot enforce anything. He spoke about improvements that could be implemented and how the Town will get more garbage receptacles onsite.

  As of Friday, the boaters’ lounge washrooms were open. Currently, practices are being created for the other washrooms. Sweet said this is for staff safety. Brandi Sieben, Manager of Human Resources, said she is meeting with the Health and Safety Committee on Wednesday morning to review the final version of this practice. After that, staff can be trained. She believes these washrooms will opened later this week

  Patrons on the docks not social distancing are causing issues, Sweet said. Enforcement is also a challenge. He said he thinks everyone’s goal is to ensure Colchester Beach is family-friendly, safe, and enjoyable for all.

  Another option is to just close the beach. He said a fence could go up around the beach by the following afternoon. This would give the Town time to look at bylaws and enforceability.

  Snively wondered if it would be possible to close the beach just for the weekend, allowing it to remain open during the week to avoid huge gatherings. With COVID, Council has to be leaders, he said.

  Staff is having a real struggle with boaters and social distancing, Sweet said. The town has sent out an email as a reminder of the guidelines. The next two steps, if needed, included a warning, then asking them to remove their boats.  

  Councillor Steve Bjorkman was in favour of shutting the beach down completely. He kept a close eye on the beach over the weekend. He was afraid this issue will be pointed out as a reason the region does not get out of the phase one of reopening. He added there are only four port-a-johns onsite as well.

  Councillor Chris Vander Doelen and Councillor Morley Bowman voted against the motion.

  Bowman said he hates to give into the masses when the facility is not being operated the way the Town would like to see. He would like to see the proper requirements implemented. The real focus should be to keep it open and keep moving forward. He believes the province is dead wrong in handling COVID in the region.

  Vander Doelen said he believes there are two separate issues; one of which is due to the success of developing Colchester Beach that Sweet highlighted, and the COVID issue. He said the issues of Friday are not new. That has to be managed. He said the cost for the OPP overtime was outrageous. He thought the beach should stay open, noting Council recently had a desire to get the Premier to open the main streets for businesses.

  Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche said once businesses open up, there is a sense of control as they will make sure they are not over capacity or they will get shutdown. With the beach, someone has to be in charge of those things. Meloche wanted Council to look at what it could put in place to open the beaches as part of phase two of the reopening.

  “I’d like to keep it open if I thought it was safe, but it sounds like it is not, they way it is operating right now,” Meloche said.

  Nepszy said it is not that it is unsafe, but it comes down to personal responsibility. There is no issue if everyone follows guidelines. “A lot of the issues we are having comes down to people not making the choice of being personally responsible,” he said.

  Councillor Sherry Bondy thanked Snively for showing leadership in calling the special meeting.

Perhaps Council could get a better handle on the trailer parking issue. The police should just be policing the beach without additional costs to residents, she said. She was not in support of paying $4000-$5000 each weekend for the additional policing. Either Council needs to get that into what police are doing normally or come up with a new idea.

  Despite police being there, she said she heard from residents there were still issues. She said the Health Unit needs to be pushed more to find out where the COVID cases are from.

  Nepszy said staff will keep Council informed about progress made on the issues highlighted during the meeting. Council, he added, can continue to discuss what it wants to do in regards to monitoring the issue there when it opens back up.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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