Illegal channel irks cottagers

Residents fear Lake Winnipeg marsh will be taken over for private marina

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High above the south basin of Lake Winnipeg, the latest threat to the province's largest waterway comes into view.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/08/2010 (4423 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

High above the south basin of Lake Winnipeg, the latest threat to the province’s largest waterway comes into view.

A boat channel, dug illegally last winter, zigzags along the edge of a marsh on the east side of the lake.

Below, a couple of kayakers in the marsh gaze up at the circling plane.

ROBERT TINKER PHOTO / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Equipment works on shoreline of channel on east side of Lake Winnipeg in May.

If the worst fears of some come true, this marsh could one day be off-limits to paddlers and instead be the entrance to a large private marine development where each cottage has a dock and boat.

Standing in the way of that is the Eastern Beaches Conservation Coalition (EBCC), a group of cottagers who say such a development has no place in such a fragile environment.

"What’s the effect on drainage? What’s the effect on wildlife? What’s the effect on the lake?" EBCC spokesman David Crabb said Thursday. "What about public access? We don’t know any of those answers."

The canal now sits empty of docks and boats — it hasn’t been used all summer — because the province issued a stop-work order on the project after residents complained. The mouth of the channel where it meets the lake was ordered plugged, but recent storms and high waves washed it away.

It will now be subject to a provincial environmental review, but the damage to the marsh has already been done.

A bald eagle that had nested in the area has not been seen for a while.

"Bird’s nests were just mowed down," Crabb said.

Crabb said the EBCC’s goal is to return the marsh to its natural state and maintain public access to Beaconia Beach.

The EBCC invited the Free Press on an aerial tour of the Beaconia area Thursday to show how much the 4.5-metre-wide canal has altered the marsh, which is immediately north of where the Brokenhead River flows into Lake Winnipeg.

From the air, much of the tree line along the east side of the marsh has been bulldozed and covered over with what was dug out to make the canal. Where willows and cattails once thrived it’s as dead as the moon.

It also doesn’t appear to end anywhere other than a public road.

Robert Rettie, owner of Redquest Developments in Alberta, told the Free Press several weeks ago he had the channel built to better protect his two watercraft. Rettie has a summer residence nearby.

BRUCE.OWEN@FREEPRESS.MB.CA The Selkirk and District Planning Area Board issued permit for channel without an environmental review.

He also said a cottage development on farmland he owns may not be viable.

"Who knows down the road," he added.

The question no one can answer is how Rettie dug the channel without first getting a provincial environmental licence, a process that also requires public input.

Rettie did get a development permit from the Selkirk and District Planning Area Board and a letter of advice from the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans, but neither replaced the environmental licence.

Crabb said the Selkirk and District Planning Area Board should have ensured the channel met each stage of approval before issuing the permit.

"The Selkirk and District Planning Area Board didn’t only drop the ball — they ignored the ball altogether," Crabb said.

Lloyd Talbot, manager of the Selkirk and District Planning Area Board, was unavailable.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

 

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