IN THE NEWS
Plug pulled on beach mediation funding
By Raymond Bowe
Friday, December 31, 2004 - 17:00
Local News - TINY TOWNSHIP Attorney General Michael Bryant has decided to cease funding the mediation process regarding the squabble over beach access. The province has spent close to $500,000 since 2000 trying to make peace between shoreline property owners and beachgoers.
Bryant's declaration, handed down Dec. 16, has left some Federation of Tiny Township Shoreline Association (FoTTSA) members scratching their heads about their next move, and dismayed about where things stand.
"They've been so slow to reply, and it's not automatic that they're on side," said Judith Grant, a member of FoTTSA, the umbrella organization that includes 22 individual associations.
"We are disappointed that it's not going forward. We'll have to figure out some way to get it moving forward, but it's not clear (how) as yet," she said.
The next step for FoTTSA will likely include getting together to consider alternatives, though meetings haven't been scheduled, Grant said.
The crux of the debate is whether beaches are privately owned or accessible by the public. Just as waterfront access rules vary along the expansive Georgian Bay shoreline, so too do opinions in Tiny Township. Shoreline property owners claim title to a particular beach and users cite access rights.
Over the years, tensions had escalated to include public demonstrations, vandalism, verbal and physical confrontations, and the building of fences and barriers.
Bob Buchkowsky, a proponent of beach access who says he holds the opinion of the "majority of residents," agreed with Bryant's decision that the time had come to pull the plug on funding.
"We were trying to work through the mediation, but it was time-consuming and there wasn't much to show for it at the end of the day," said Buchkowsky, a former township councillor.
"When it goes on for such a long period, with little to show in tangible results... it can't be open-ended. It's just not realistic. There was not a complete lack of success, but after three or four years, there was not enough to continue on," he said.
Mediators Paul Torrie and James McKenzie from the Toronto-based Global Resolutions Inc., were appointed by the province in 2000, and although many believe progress was made, a solution has never been reached. The mediation process adjourned in April.
Upon adjournment, the duo prepared a report for Bryant about progress made so far and remaining challenges.
Their recommendations included a wait-and-see-what-happens approach, seeking a court ruling, land expropriation, legislation or continuing the mediation process.
Not surprisingly, they chose the latter, a "made-in-Tiny" mediated resolution.
After reading the mediators report, Bryant determined enough was enough, stating the two sides should be able to achieve a resolution themselves.
In a letter to the mediators, Bryant writes: "I have considered the recommendations and I believe the dispute is one that can and should be resolved by those who have been directly involved and affected by this dispute over the years, including the stakeholders and the municipality."
Bryant said headway has been made since the early days of the dispute. He notes "significant progress" and "considerable goodwill... generated in the community." Stakeholders, including the township, have provided a "strong foundation" upon which the resolution process should continue, writes the Attorney General, who termed the issue "very complex and sensitive."
Stakeholders are in a position to decide if they wish to devote their own resources to the process, said Bryant, adding, "the province has provided close to $500,000 on the mediation process... without resolution.
The province will no longer continue to provide financial support."
Grant was confounded and disappointed by his decision.
"We were hopeful the process would continue... because I think (it) was a good one," she said, adding it was crucial to have the Ministry of the Attorney General involved.
Buchkowsky, on the other hand, says the proponents and opponents for public access should look at inroads made at Cawaja Beach as a template, a microcosm of the larger controversy.
At Cawaja, there was a willingness on both sides to compromise, he said. Though it took more than a year, a solution was eventually found.
With the ongoing battle in Tiny Township, people at the table need to deal with the problem, said Buchkowsky, and not just their "entrenched views.
It can be a complicated process in terms of dealing with people," he said, adding while you don't need everyone on board, just the majority.