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Friends of Wellers Bay remain focused on its health and upkeep

– Friends of Wellers Bay photo

By Sharon Harrison
Continued protection and preservation of Wellers Bay, and communications with the community, organizations and government are the focus of the Friends of Wellers Bay volunteer group.

An update on the Friends’ achievements and upcoming plans was provided virtually at the non-for-profit organization’s annual general meeting this week.

Updates include plans for dredging and looking into the condition of the break wall. The Friends of Wellers Bay’s (FOWB) mandate remains focused on the health and integrity of the bay, the environment and the community.

Karen Fischer, FOWB chair, said the organization has been in a state of transition since 2015 when the city of Quinte West took over responsibility for dredging of Wellers Bay.

“That was FOWB’s reason for being since the beginning in 1988, and so we really needed to take a good look at what is our continued mandate and what still fits for us, and what’s different now that we are not responsible for dredging,” she said.

Over the past month, the group has been providing input to Quinte West regarding the status of the next dredging and the break wall.

A narrow channel is dredged between Lake Ontario and Wellers Bay to encourage water circulation in the bay with Lake Ontario to improve water quality and keep the sand deposition from the baymouth barrier beach from closing off boat access from the lake.

“We are definitely going to do a maintenance dredge, probably around February give or take weather conditions, and set up on-site, and the paperwork is being processed,” said Jim Alyea, councillor and deputy mayor of Quinte West, and also long time FOWB member.

He said the break wall is more of problem as it is owned by the federal government.

“The island itself is under provincial jurisdiction and is an ANSI (area of natural and scientific interest), so it creates more problems if you have to get permits and access and so on.”

Alyea said they were looking at bringing in an engineering firm to assess the best approach.

“We have taken a look and one spot in the middle has sagged or breached a bit, certainly the inner parts of it quite a bit of heavy back wash when the water was high in 2017 and 2019,” Alyea said. “It shows quite a bit of rougher area that might need addressing, but the rest of it is not too bad.”

He said the plan was to do maintenance at the same time as the dredging.

“We may have to build a road across to get to it and get some materials and if that’s the case to get over there like last time (maintenance in 2008) and it hasn’t had anything done to it since,” he said. “We may even have to use barges or something at a staging site, load materials a few pieces at a time and take it over and place it.”

Fischer also spoke to the FOWB volunteer who puts in and takes out the tow markers, as well as checking on the signage, lighting and so on.

She said it has been noted that many of the buoys need replacing and is something the Friends are looking to do between now and next boating season.

“To replace those buoys, and it is a fairly high ticket item for FOWB, we are looking at potential for funding assistance from outside organizations that can work on doing this replacement,” said Fischer. “We are going to have to fundraise in some way to make this happen.”

Anyone who can assist with pulling out the buoys in the fall, usually around Thanksgiving, is asked to contact the organization at friendsofwellersbay@gmail.com.

Working on a five-year strategic plan approved in January 2021, Fischer said they have been in implementation mode, where as part of the strategic process, they have identified four key goal areas: environmental protection and stewardship, shoreline and property protection and development, community building and communication; board governance and membership development.

For environment protection and stewardship, Fischer said priority actions identified focused around testing and water quality, shoreline conservation, workshops and information sessions on relevant topics, as well as starting an information repository for relevant information relating to stewardship of the bay.

Overseeing environmental protection and stewardship is Toby Toth, FOWB secretary, who spoke to the Quinte Conservation Authority strategic plan work.

“As one of the myriad lake associations, we were invited as stakeholders to have some conversations under the guidance of a firm who was brought in to do their strategic plan review, explained Toth. “It was a lengthy process and very enjoyable, and there has been some headway and hopefully our participation had an impact.”

Toth also spoke to the Love your Lake program with Quinte Conservation which saw mailers go to all waterfront property owners.

The voluntary and an education-based assessment of the bay looked at the quality of the water, kinds of life forms they were finding in the water and shrubbery and plants they were finding around the shoreline itself.

“The point was to set a bar to the quality or the health of the bay is at right now and that sets a bar for knowing and understanding the changes that maybe occurring over time if those things happen,” said Toth.

She confirmed that no information will be released on specific property owners as they were looking only at the big picture information.

Further, the River Institute came to Wellers Bay to do a study on the pugnose shiner, a very small fish, and a species-at-risk.

“The folks were in the bay trying to see if they could find any, and what kind of food the pugnose are looking for, whether that was present and what kind of plant life was around that may or may not be an environment the pugnose tend to thrive in,” said Toth.

While they did not find any of those fish, Toth said they did find qualifiers that would demonstrate that it is an environment that they could be in, so they hope to find some in the future.

Toth confirmed water testing continues in Wellers Bay which has been carried out by Karen Mouck, something they have been doing for almost a decade. She said a similar program the FOWB have taken on is water rangers which is more citizen scientist driven and will be an education opportunity, but also a community engagement.

“When COVID protocols allow, we hope to have groups of youth out participating in the water testing so they can see a little bit about the science behind what we are looking for in the water and keeping track of those numbers,” explained Toth. Over time, the information will demonstrate what is going on with the health of the bay.

“Those clues that come in quite early for us help us make decisions as a community, so that we can take quick action so the bay continues to thrive as it does now.”

Action items identified by the FOWB included community building and communication, building relationships and working closely with municipalities and conservation authorities, provincial and federal agencies as required, and local businesses.

“One of the underlying pieces that we have learned with input from the community and the work that the board has done on strategic planning is that the stewardship of the bay is of paramount importance,” said Fischer

Board member Penny Edwards is looking after governance and membership development, and as well she developed an orientation program for new board members. She is also developing a policies and procedures manual.

“One of the things we did was a constitutional review and looked at what were the requirements from the province of Ontario to be a not-for-profit organization and one of the things we needed were very clear bylaws,” to govern the organization.

‘It increases our accountability as board and officers of the corporation, but it also enhances members’ rights and makes sure directors and officers are not taking actions that are not in the interests of FOWB and giving the membership access to our financial records.”

Janice Maynard, a Wellers Bay resident and Prince Edward County councillor, thanked Fischer for her ongoing work both as a resident herself and on behalf of council.

“It is quite phenomenal. It is really heartwarming to have such a grassroots group accomplish so much,” said Maynard. “We are committed to the on-going support we provide for the dredging of the channel. As a Quinte Conservation board member, thank you for your active participation in our strategic plan, you are a very valued partner in planning.”

Volunteers and new members are welcome. The group meets once a month (but not every month), and members can expect to attend 10 meetings per year.

“If you can make them, or attend virtually, any time you can devote is certainly appreciated,” said Toth, who said if anyone had specialty areas, they would like to hear from them. “Spend as much or as little time as you have. We are happy you can help in any way.”

Friends of Wellers Bay will also be hosting a trash bash on Saturday, Aug. 14.

“We are encouraging people who live in and around Wellers Bay, and also who use the beaches and boat launches, to participate in a clean-up,” said Fischer. “We heard that litter was a real issue and we wanted to address it in some way this year by participating in these events.”

As Fishcer ends her term as chair, she will be remaining on the board, and said she was pleased to have set the organization’s goals and created an extremely strong team.

“It was a strong goal of mine to have this really well-formed amazing group of people working together for FOWB for the betterment of the bay and its unity.”

Click here to visit the Friends of Wellers Bay website 

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