The Kemble Mountain Trail in Georgian Bluffs will remain closed for the time being after the municipality received a legal opinion on motorized vehicle access on it.
During its committee of the whole meeting on Wednesday, Georgian Bluffs chief administrative officer Al Meneses told council that the legal opinion the municipality received said that the township is only allowed to regulate use of off-road vehicles in areas that are governed by the Niagara Escarpment Commission if such regulations would not conflict with the Niagara Escarpment Plan.
“Basically what the legal opinion states is that we cannot allow, or sort of condone or make any policies that would contradict the NEC policies,” Meneses said, adding that the legal opinion in regard to how it applies to the Kemble Mountain Trail is clear.
“That trail is on the NEC’s land, its highest protected area and as such motorized vehicles, other than snowmobiles in the wintertime, are strictly prohibited.”
Meneses said enforcement of the legislation lies with the NEC, however if the municipality knows that the illegal activity is occurring on its unopened road allowance, it has an obligation to prevent it.
In March, Georgian Bluffs temporarily closed the approximately three kilometre stretch of the Kemble Mountain Trail to motorized vehicles.
The trail follows the Cole’s Sideroad unopened road allowance between Concession 24 and Taylor Sideroad northwest of Kemble.
The closure came after concerns were raised about the trail crossing through the environmentally sensitive NEC lands. It also deviates from the municipal road allowance and onto private property in several places. Georgian Bluffs agreed to make repairs to some private property that had been damaged by vehicles in the area.
Mayor Dwight Burley said Saturday that the municipality is still working with the NEC on the issue.
“We are looking at the whole broad area to make sure we know where we can have trails and where we can’t,” Burley said. “Maybe we can relocate a trail within that area. We don’t know yet.”
Barricades and signs were installed to stop motorized vehicles, including ATVs and mud trucks, from using the trail.
Meneses said staff are monitoring the trails and have dealt with some issues of gates and barricades being moved or damaged.
Meneses said the municipality is trying to take a much more active enforcement stance on the permitted activities on its trails. Signs have been erected and a third-party bylaw enforcement firm has been watching the trail, Menseses said.
Georgian Bluffs is also developing a township-wide active transportation plan that includes a review of all of its trails and defines the use of them.
Meneses said staff has been working to identify the various trails and possible routes around the township to accommodate the various user groups wanting to enjoy the outdoors.
Geographic information system (GIS) mapping is currently being undertaken to clearly identify possible trails and routes and allowable uses on those routes, “as per applicable legislation,” Meneses said.
The municipality expects the mapping to be completed by the end of July, with community engagement meetings likely to be conducted by staff in late August to allow everyone to have input into the proposed plans.
“Once all that community input is received, staff will then return to council with a comprehensive plan and recommendation for council’s consideration later this year,” Meneses said. “We are currently targeting the September council meeting for that update.”