Town councillors heard from Greater Fort Erie residents this week, who said locals shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of having access to Bay Beach.
Councillors heard overcrowding, tents, barbecues, parking, security and litter were some of issues beach users faced last summer.
More than 15 people, both permanent and summer residents, shared their thoughts about how Bay Beach should operate. Fort Erie staff organized the meeting that was held at Town Hall on Monday to gather feedback on a report that detailed options on how to manage the daily operations at Bay Beach such as parking, staffing costs and whether to charge users for access to the beach.
The report, which was presented to the council last month, outlines three options that look at charging admission to the beach. The first option would require all users to pay an admission fee during prime hours; the second option calls for all adults to pay a fee, with free admission for youths 15 and under; the third option calls for free admission for Fort Erie residents, with all non-residents expected to pay to access the beach.
June Chipp said charging an admission fee is the wrong approach, and the Town should instead put “more energy into turning those crowds to our advantage, not turning tourists away.”
“We have one of the best beaches on Canada’s south coast and people are going to come,” Chipp said.
She pointed out that other beaches along Lake Erie’s shoreline such as Long Beach and Nickel Beach here in Niagara and beaches in Port Dover, Port Burwell, and Turkey Point don’t charge users a fee.
Louise Carr, a senior summer resident in Crystal Beach, said residents, both full and part-time, shouldn’t be charged a fee.
“We are taxpayers and many of us are on a limited income. Please don’t do it,” she said.
Carr also noted that tents, barbecues and other large items have impacted the enjoyment of the waterfront for many beach users.
“I don’t go to the beach on a weekend because it’s too crazy,” she explained.
“The last time I went to the beach, someone brought a living room couch and put it underneath a tent.”
Another resident, Casey Bruyns, was concerned about the lack of safety at Bay Beach.
He told councillors he’s seen many barbecues on the beach.
“Can you imagine a child stepping on hot coals? Can you imagine the cost of a lawsuit? Why can’t we just go and find a really good security company?” he asked.
Ken Todd told the council he’d like to see the Town value the beach more as an asset.
“To me, (charging) $5 is not enough,” he said, and added Fort Erie residents shouldn’t have to pay to use a fee, but non-resident adults should pay $10. He also said children should be allowed to use the beach for free.
According to Todd, someone coming from Toronto is “not going to balk at (paying) $10.”
He also told councillors he felt there is a need for better enforcement of rules to improve the experience for beach users.
Bill Hein spoke on behalf of Church on the Beach, a group that offers a weekly non-denominational service on the beach during the Summer months.
He said Church on the Beach hopes to continue providing services this year, without having to charge patrons a fee to access the beach. He also asked the council to consider issuing permits to allow tents on the beach.
He said the group pays $8,000 a year to be able to use Bay Beach. The group typically puts up three tents, which are on the beach from 8:30 a.m. and removed by 10 a.m. following the group’s service.
“We do have three tents and we’d like to have the permission to use them,” he said.
Hein asked the council to keep the Ashwood access to the beach open at least for disabled people who use the access site for Church on the Beach services.
In the report, staff said the beach sees an average of 84,000 users during prime beach days. Based on that number, staff estimated if everyone who accessed the beach paid a $5 fee, or purchased a $25 season pass, the fees would generate $223,000 in revenue, as well as $84,000 in parking revenue.
If council chooses option two, staff estimate the revenue at $189,000 and $50,400 for option three.
Town staff will provide a follow-up report, which will include the comments from Monday’s public meeting as well as a recommendation for the council on March 18.