Norfolk County may soon formalize its stewardship of the provincial beach in Normandale by means of an outright purchase.
Norfolk County has assumed responsibility for the care and upkeep of the beach in Normandale for the past 10 years to maintain public access. Now comes word that the province is prepared to sell the beach.
“Public access to beaches should be a priority of all levels of government,” Norfolk County said Tuesday in a news release. “Norfolk County strongly supports the public’s ability to have continued access to the Normandale beach and Lake Erie.”
Norfolk council has considered information on the sale of the beach in-camera. At the March 9 council-in-committee meeting, Mayor Kristal Chopp was expected to move that council share this information with the public. The outcome of that motion was not available at press time.
Waterfront access has been a top-of-mind issue in waterfront communities most everywhere for many years. More than 10 years ago, Norfolk County started a fund for acquiring waterfront land as it becomes available. The county did so with the encouragement of the late Simcoe businessman and philanthropist John Race.
In 2009, Race exhorted all three levels of government in Canada to work together to secure waterfront land before it fell into the hands of developers and was walled off by condominium towers and the like. Race made a donation to the waterfront fund upon its formation.
Norfolk County has consistently maintained an interest in securing waterfront property for public uses. In recent years, the municipality has expressed an interest in assuming responsibility for the provincial beach in Turkey Point.
This arose due to disagreements over the proliferation of phragmites in areas of the waterfront once used by the public. The Ministry of Natural Resources maintained for a time that phragmites stands provide habitat for some species.
The municipality maintains that phragmites are an invasive species that destroy habitat for native animals and birds. They also cut off public access to the waterfront. Two years ago, the province relented and allowed the spreading stand in Turkey Point to be sprayed with an herbicide.
Norfolk has also fretted about public access to the Walker Street beach in Port Dover. Many assume this is public land.
In fact, Norfolk County owns a strip of the beach 66 feet wide at the end of Walker Street. The rest of the beach is private property and could be declared off-limits to the public at any time.
This is what happened last spring and summer as the COVID-19 pandemic tightened its grip on Norfolk and elsewhere.
Due to concerns over visitors gathering in large numbers and potentially spreading the coronavirus, some waterfront property owners in Port Dover declared their land off-limits to the public. This included Norfolk County and the small strip of land it owns at the end of Walker Street.