ACW proposal may force Port Albert families to sell century-old properties

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As I look at the lake at my new home in Michigan I often think of the glorious summers spent on Lake Huron at my family cottage in Port Albert.

One might know the small town from a visit to the local Port Albert General Store & Pub, one of the two small businesses located there.

Growing up in and around Toronto, as soon as the snow melted we began to plan the opening of our cottage and penciling the many school-year weekends, summer weeks and always-welcome visitors we would have that year.

Not only was our cottage in Port Albert my getaway of choice, but also it was an opportunity to see my extended family from all over Ontario.

My family purchased our land in Port Albert from the Crown in the 1800s. My great-grandmother divided the lakefront lots between each of her six daughters, and the entire family would jointly own the landlocked farmland.

Each of her daughters constructed a cottage on their lots, and it became a summer-long family reunion haven. I may not have realized it during my childhood, but looking back, I’m incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to develop close bonds with my much-extended family that I would likely have little relationship with otherwise.

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Our families would walk to the Port Store together, get our favourite ice cream, and stroll to the beach to watch as bagpipers ‘piped down the sun’ – as polar opposite as could be from my life in the city.

As I got older, not much changed, really. Friends began to join me, and even request trips to the cottage, but we still did the same things at the same Port Albert pace.

Lately, life has been different for all of us. The year 2020 brought a barrage of unique challenges that each of us had to face.

I got engaged in February, and a weekend visit to see my American fiancé in March has now turned into a year-long+ stay without being able to return to Canada for fear of being separated from my now-husband for an extended period.

This is the longest period in my life that I haven’t been able to spend a significant amount of time in Port Albert, and I’ve certainly felt the loss.

Just when I didn’t think 2021 could bring anything worse than I experienced in 2020, here we are.

As a result of following ACW Township council meetings, it is my understanding that council is working towards putting forward a Servicing Master Plan. It is my understanding that this would directly charge my family approximately $1.02 Million for ‘benefits’ that we do not want, need or derive advantage from.

In fact, the only group this would ‘benefit’ is the potential developers that have the Township phone “quite literally ringing off the hook” with interest in development (quote: Celina Whaling-Rae, Planner, ACW Township Council Meeting Special Session, March 24 2021).

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Issuing ratepayers bills for sums this exorbitant would effectively force us to sell our properties. Here I was ‘feeling a loss’ from not being able to visit my cottage in 2020 – the possibility that I may be forced to sell it certainly puts things in perspective.

To add insult to injury, I sat in on a March 24 Special Session Council Zoom meeting, during which BM Ross consultant Kelly Vader responded to Councilor Vanstone’s query of what percentage of the public needs to agree to this plan with: “a Master Plan cannot be appealed. So if Council decides to proceed with this Master Plan, then…umm… you’ll be proceeding with the Master Plan.” (Kelly Vader, ACW Township Council Meeting Special Session, March 24 2021).

How upsetting – it seems that council has complete authority and doesn’t require the agreement of any residents to move forward.

The news of the proposed outrageously high fees, lack of ratepayer consent required and non-options for appeal was a shock.

Needless to say, my family, along with other members of the community, has been writing to members of council and other key decision makers to ensure that they understand their ratepayers’ opposition to their current proposal.

While we have received modest response from our outreach (exactly zero response from Councilors, actually), we will continue to work towards ensuring our ACW Township Council has all the information necessary to be able to accurately reflect the voices of their ratepayers.

I’m very much missing Port Albert, and there is a mix of overwhelming hope that the ACW Township Council will not take actions that will prevent me from enjoying it with my family in the future.

The year of 2021 surely has to be brighter, right?

Vanessa Gregory

Michigan

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