Napanee resident: downtown boat launch concept ‘a plan without a plan’

Napanee’s downtown boat launch has been a cause of confusion and consternation this summer for many boaters. Changes to the layout, new signage, a loss of parking spaces, and a seeming lack of enforcement have all contributed to the issue in August 2021.  Area resident, Donald Stokes, has been following the refurbishment of the property with interest since 2015 and he has had enough of what he calls, “a plan without a plan.”

Stokes, who will make a deputation to Greater Napanee’s Town Council on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, has spent a great deal of his life on, in, and near the water. As a retired sales rep for a sports and recreation manufacturer, he has experience with over 500 boat dock and launch sites. He says, “Big, small, saltwater, freshwater, I’ve been to a lot of these things. And I saw nothing like this particular process that has taken place.”

A view of the boat launch site from Center Street Bridge. The Waterfront River Pub and Terrace can be seen in the background. Submitted photo.

The process he is talking about began with two public consultation meetings in 2015, which he participated.  At these meetings, the town presented various potential plans for the site, or for the relocation of the boat launch. Stokes says, “There was a total of 19 people [at those meetings] and out of those 19 people, there were 14 that expressed concern, and that they did it in writing. That’s unusual.”

“On top of that, the summary [of those consultation meetings], there’s no names attached. I’ve never seen anything like that,” he says, adding that he could not even tell which of the comments were his or if they were even included in the summary because none of them reflect his writing style.

“In approximately April [2016], these recommendations that were made were supposed to kickoff. That never happened. I have no idea why. Everything went on some kind of pause, and with that pause in 2018, you saw a change in mayors, you saw a change in the structure of how the Council is made up,” Stokes relays, noting that then, “all of a sudden with the boat ramp, a couple of little things began to happen. From the boat ramp to six kilometres out of town you, have the longest no-wake zone that I’ve seen in Canada. It is three times as long as anything I’ve ever seen.”  

This drives boaters away from town, in his opinion.

“If you go down there on any day now and you see those few boaters that use the thing, then you go to Deseronto, and it’s a different story. There, usage has picked up,” he explains.

Stokes is also concerned with recent changes to the parking lot at the boat ramp. He says that the construction to improve Water Street and the repaving of the upper parking lot were a positive.

“Good idea; helps the downtown merchants, helps the new business and now you’re able to park down by the waterfront, it’s a good thing.”

But at this point he says, on the lower boat launch parking, “this green slope, it was there, and people used to back up their trailers onto it — very efficient. That was replaced with all this rock, which I call a scree slope. All of a sudden that cut out approximately six to seven feet of grass on the north slope, and so backing up the trailers was wiped out.”

This scree slope he says, creates not just a loss of space, but, “on the rocks, you begin to have weeds grow up, you begin to have garbage sticking to it. Also, I have definitely spotted one rat in the rocks near Centre Street.”

This confounds Stokes, who says, “[Town Council] felt that it was serious enough in 2015 to have this quickly-ran public consultation, but you don’t have any public consultation for these changes that are happening [now], right? These changes are happening, which I call a ‘plan with no plan’. All that stuff that began to happen, you begin to have the rocks. And then you begin to see this whole concrete thing, where the [concrete barricades in the lower lot] begin to change into different shapes. And so, I’m just watching that and I’m puzzled. It seemed like a change of every two weeks.”

But what happened next further baffles Stokes, who says that, effective August 2021 a new conceptual drawing titled ‘Concept C’ was posted to the site with no public consultation whatsoever.

“There’s no previous mention of that. There was ‘Concept A’ and ‘Concept B.’ There’s nothing called ‘Concept C’ in the recommendations from 2015,” Stokes expresses.

“In this ‘Concept C,’ there’s actually some unmarked structures. And these unmarked structures, as much as you might think, ‘well that’s no big deal,’ It’s a very big deal. And this thing happened with this dirt being put in the middle… The dirt is supposed to be some temporary parking measure.”

‘Concept C’ for the downtown Napanee boat launch, dock, and parking lot, as posted at the site. Submitted photo.

In an email, Wayne Taylor, Director of Public Works and Facilities for the Town of Greater Napanee, addresses the current set up at the site and the ‘Concept C’ issue.

“This location has been a difficult one for quite a few years, and looks like it was going to be for the foreseeable future. This is why I opened it up to different options,” Taylor says, noting that the current set up, “was voted on to implement on a temporary basis until we had a master plan completed to determine which stakeholder the lot was going to be geared for.”

He continues, “Was it perfect? No. Not having enforcement timed correctly with the rollout has led to a bit of a free-for-all down there… Council has since demanded enforcement to allow for the original intent: to have boaters easily navigate while accommodating a handful of [accessible parking] spots, and along the water, [parking for] regular vehicles.”

Taylor says the dirt pile was only intended to stay on the site to show that it is a no-parking location, and then, “removed to maximize ease for truck and trailer,” though he doesn’t mention when the Town intends to move the dirt.

“The process is slow, but the intent is to get a commitment as to who the lot should be for… and then we can pave, paint lines and put in curbs… Council believes the interim solution shows their commitment for boating access once enforced correctly,” he writes. “Bylaw can not enforce unless the signage and Council support is in place. I hope you see the progress we are aiming for even as both patio and boating seasons are winding down.”

Who voted on the temporary situation and when; when the “master plan” is expected and whether it is a Town master plan, a plan for the entire waterfront area, or simply a plan for this lot, and; when Council demanded parking/bylaw enforcement and whether it is working — all remain unknown. A request for further clarification on these points was sent to Mr. Taylor, but remained unanswered as of this publication. 

Adding to the confusion in recent years, the public boat launch is located next door to a popular eatery, The Waterfront River Pub and Terrace, which opened in 2013. Members of the public have been using the designated boat launch parking while attending the Pub, and with no bylaw/parking enforcement.

“The Waterfront restaurant was in place and I have no ill will towards these people,” says Stokes.

“Plus, what we have now are four spots designated [to accessible parking], directly in front of the restaurant. That was a fire lane before, and also now it might be a future liability. Heaven forbid someone goes down there, they lose control in icy conditions and hit this concrete abutment. Now, whose fault is that? If you hit some car, is that [on] the restaurant? Under your own insurance? Or is it going to the Town’s?”

That concrete abutment now blocks what had been a launch site for smaller vessels, such as canoes or paddleboats. Further, Stokes says, “They didn’t use to plow down there, until a few years ago, and that plowing that really changed the volume of traffic.” 

Built in 1857, the pub building served as a brewery until 1880, when a grain merchant purchased the property, which included two additional lots. In 1911, the Seymour Power and Electric Light Company purchased the building and operated a powerhouse there until 1930. For Stokes, this poses a serious question.

“So, do you know what’s under the dirt?” he asks. “It was a coal yard.”

 This picture depicts the site circa 1950, to the left of the river, when it was used as a coal yard. N-00293 Courtesy of the Museum of Lennox and Addington Archives.

With so many questions left unanswered, Stokes says he will be making his presentation to council “old school,” with 10 professional presentation boards that he hopes to display publicly for townsfolk to consider, along with his own observations based on both professional and lived experience.

“There’s going to be a little bit about history, there’s going to be some testimonials from groups, individuals, companies — including Canada’s largest marine electronics company.” 

In conclusion, Stokes summarizes his main concerns.

“One, that people aren’t being able to safely use the site the way it was intended,” he says. 

“Secondly, the long-range impact is the most important thing to consider [in this planning], because we’ve got to make it better. With this whole thing downtown, they need to raise the bar. Raise the bar in terms of what you expect as a Council as a staff, and what we want to do as a community.”

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