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Proposed changes to Wellington Beach to address ‘thorniest’ over-tourism issues

Swing gates and signs proposed for Wellington Beach

In a quest to calm a repeat of the tourism fiasco at Wellington Beach last summer, Prince Edward County municipal staff are recommending changes at council’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Thursday.

Highlights include free use by residents and a $10 per person charge for visitors on weekends and holidays; reduced operating hours of the launch on weekends and holidays; closure of the Belleville street launch and moving the bulk water haulage system to the Wellington arena.

These three areas of the coming Tourism Management Plan were flagged by council for further consideration, especially related to finding benefits for residents.

“It is important to recognize that a better approach for managing tourism volumes is, in itself, a benefit for residents,” said Karen Palmer, Destination Marketing and Development Co-ordinator, in her report. “While not all tourism-related challenges can be solved in so short a timeframe, and without additional budgetary support, the proposed additional resources, staffing and enforcement will help address the thorniest issues under the municipality’s control. A new commitment to working proactively to limit the impacts of tourism should make a noticeable difference for residents.”

Wellington Beach saw unprecedented levels of use in the summer of 2020 as day-use visitors were turned away from at capacity provincial beaches.

“Overuse of Wellington Beach caused major issues for Wellington residents: some beach-goers trespassed across private property, others took dangerous risks to swim to the beach from the Lions Park or the United Church seawall, and many caused traffic snarls as beach-goers unloaded their vehicles or waited for access,” Palmer noted. “Staff reported significant challenges trying to manage traffic flow and visitor expectations.”

More than 1,000 responses were received in an online survey about Wellington Beach in February – about half the responses from village residents.

“While a significant number of respondents preferred beach access be free for resident use and only available to residents, it is important to note that this is a false option. It is not “free,” as the costs to manage the beach, control traffic and restrict visitor use does not go away. Closing the beach to visitors means those costs are fully borne by Prince Edward County ratepayers.”

Resoundingly, respondents did not want to see full closure of the beach. Palmer reports “a slim majority” supported free access for residents and fees to visitors.

To identify residents and develop a pilot program for 2021, staff propose a residents’ seasonal pass that could be picked up at select municipal offices and libraries with proof of residency.

“This pass would not be provided via mail, to reduce the likelihood that short
term accommodation owners who do not live in the County collect the pass and
provide to their paying guests. This pass will not guarantee access if the beach is already at capacity, but will waive any fees, and is not tied to a particular date.”

Wellington beach capacity is 250 users, and to preserve staff safety and reduce potential for conflict at entrance gates there would be no “in and out” privileges.

Mid-week, the beach would not be staffed by gate attendants and use would be free of charge for all. Operations would monitor the beach midweek and shift staffing plans if warranted.

Seasonal staff will be supported by third party security personnel to help manage the flow of vehicles and foot traffic, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from mid-May to mid-September.

Temporary fencing (low black plastic mesh) is proposed for the season to discourage access through the rear of private properties. Litter and garbage is to be cleared more frequently.

The kiosk and control arm installed at the south end of Beach Street that was used in the summer 2020 will be in place, but a gate system at the intersection with Main Street Wellington will also be added. This would be a semi-permanent installation – removable during winter – with a split swing gate with a central opening that would allow passage on foot. Changeable, bilingual signage will be developed to attach to the posts or gate, indicating the status of the beach. This will better control entry to the beach and manage flow of traffic.

Signs facing both east and westbound traffic on Main Street will warn drivers when the beach is closed.

Use of the Wellington Beach Boat launch is proposed to be closed weekends and holidays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Staff recommends a shift from an ‘honour system’ cash box to an electronic parking payment system at the boat ramp and a designated vehicle and trailer paid parking area near the launch.

To maintain continuous access, it is recommended the bulk water station be temporarily moved to the arena from June to September. The Wellington Water Hauling Station is slated to move to the site of the new Wellington Water Tower. Barring construction delays, this is expected to be ready for use by summer 2022.

The Prince Edward OPP supports the closure of the Belleville Street Boat Launch to to issues compounding year over year and reaching a boiling point last summer.

Palmer notes the municipality sought legal opinion and confirmed it does not have an easement on the adjoining property that would allow vehicles and trailers to drive in and loop around to the boat launch.

” As a consequence, in summer 2020, users backing their trailers to the launch were forced to disrupt traffic on Main Street Wellington, which is already a source of contention with residents and visitors alike. OPP and staff were frequently called on to assist, tying up valuable resources needed elsewhere. In addition, frequent disagreements between users and staff at neighbouring properties created additional burdens on OPP and staff time, and created unsafe working conditions for staff.”

With no on-site parking, launch users are required to wait at the auxiliary parking beside the community centre, a distance of 600m. Once their vessel is in the water, they’re required to drive their vehicle and trailer back to the public parking lot beside the community centre.

“This contributes to already significant congestion at the intersection with Main Street, which is expected to be exacerbated with bulk water hauling trucks needing access to Belleville Street, and eventually the new water tower. As well, as an approved subdivision takes shape, it too will generate additional traffic in the area.”

The Wellington Beach Task Team, established by the Community & Economic Development Commission, will identify longer-term strategies for the Wellington lakefront.

Costs for the recommendations are estimated to be $76,500 with projected revenue of $50,000. It is proposed the shortfall of $26,000 be funded from the Municipal Accommodations tax. That fund for 2021 is “conservatively estimated to be $850,000; $140,500 has been allocated to enhanced visitor services and $16,976 to bilingual signage related to parking.”

Palmer notes that while the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the challenges faced in the summer of 2020, “the reality is that most are a result of choronic under-investment in tourism management and a siloed approach to managing issues within the municipality.”

Committee of the Whole is set for 1 p.m. Thursday.

 

 

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  1. Richard says:

    Le panneau en français n’est pas traduit correctement …

  2. J says:

    Very disappointed to see the Wellington beach boat launch hours reduced 8-5 on weekends. So long to Saturday trips over to the dunes before the dinner hour. We are Wellington residents and enjoy the close access to the boat launch. The pass should allow residents only to use the launch during those hours on weekends and holidays then open to anyone after 5pm. It’s fine for the beach to be jam packed all weekend with cars constantly in and out but yes, boats and the launch are the concern here. Nothing will prevent what’s going to go on here again this summer.

  3. Lenny says:

    Please take a look at the proposed signage in French. Peche Ferme means Fishing Closed not beach closed.

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