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Sarnia moves to reclaim “lost” Lake Huron shoreline

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Cathy Dobson

Almost fifty years after a Lake Huron storm washed away a portion of Old Lakeshore Road in Bright’s Grove, Sarnia is taking action to re-establish ownership of the right-of-way for public use again, says chief engineer David Jackson.

The 66-foot-wide strip of land, which stretches for a half a mile from the Cull Drain to Mike Weir Park, has been in dispute for decades.

The city insists it’s municipally owned, badly in need of shoreline protection, and would make an ideal public trail.

But at least some of the 25 or so property owners with homes on Lake Huron say the land belongs to them and they have paperwork to prove it.

“We’re eager to formalize the ownership rather than continue with this awkward situation,” said Jackson.

“There’s significant erosion along there. We classify its condition as very poor.”

Council recently directed staff to engage with the adjacent property owners and report back on next steps. The engineering department wants to confirm municipal ownership before seeking grants to begin a $7-million shoreline protection and lakefront trail project.

Old Lakeshore Road followed the shoreline until 1973, when a lake storm damaged the road so badly it was abandoned.

With a new Lakeshore Road built inland, area residents began using the former roadway to build docks, decks, fences and even a boathouse on land they believed was their own.

Some installed shoreline protection at their own expense and paid taxes on that portion of their lots.

According to longtime property owner Dave Lambert, it was 2006 when the provincial agency known as MPAC (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) decided the frontage wasn’t part of his family’s property, even though he produced a deed suggesting otherwise.

The legal dispute lasted six years. In the end, it was decided the right-of-way is municipally owned, a position recently reconfirmed by an outside legal firm hired by the city.

But the Lamberts don’t see it that way and say title to the property was never transferred.

The family says it needs to hang on to the frontage to build a second dwelling on their property, said Lambert.

“We’re willing to talk to the city, but we have a dilemma because we want the city to allow one of our kids to build on the lot and we can’t do that if they take the front 66 feet,” he said.

“If they’ll make a concession and allow us to build anyway, we’d consider transferring ownership.”

Although the city did emergency shoreline repairs last year, Lambert doesn’t agree the shoreline erosion near his home is critical.

“I’m not worried about it just now. I think it will be OK in my lifetime anyway,” he said.

While City Hall gathers input from Lambert and adjacent property owners this month, other residents who want the right-of-way converted into a multi-use trail are weighing in as well.

Mark Andrews started a Facebook Group called ‘Save the Old Lakeshore Right-of-Way’ that has about 400 members.

If the city doesn’t remove the encroaching structures and repair the shoreline soon, the right-of-way could be washed away forever, he said.

What’s more, a citizen-driven effort to restore and replace the historic Cull Drain (Perch Creek) Bridge hinges on a functioning trail on both sides of the creek, he added.

“I don’t really think the city has a choice to forget about it anymore,” Andrews added. “Shoreline protection should be done by the city so it’s the same all the way along, as opposed to homeowners doing each of their sections differently.

“If the city does it right, public beaches to the east will improve too,” he said.

The issue is expected to return to council on Feb. 28.






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