Sarnia has taken the next step in reasserting ownership of a narrow strip of land to create a public bike and walking trail with expanded beach access near Bright’s Grove.
City council wants to reclaim 750 metres of the Old Lakeshore Road right-of-way from about 25 adjacent landowners, who have used it as their own for decades.
Docks, fences and a boathouse have been erected on top of the 66-foot-wide strip of land between the Cull Drain and Mike Weir Park.
The road was abandoned after parts of it fell into Lake Huron during a storm in the 1970s.
Nearly one-third of the property owners believe the right-of-way belongs to them. But legal advisors back Sarnia’s claim of municipal ownership, the city said.
It’s an important decision, because along with establishing a public trail along the lake, Sarnia will assume responsibility for millions of dollars worth of shoreline protection work.
Waves and wind have inflicted extensive storm damage in recent years, but only emergency repairs have been undertaken, the city’s chief engineer said.
Coun. Mike Stark says if the city doesn’t claim the right-of-way it shouldn’t spend a single dime protecting it from erosion.
“There are private property owners who think the city should pay for shoreline protection on their waterfront lands. Why would we do that if the public has no access to those lands?” he asked. “It belongs to all of the citizens of Sarnia.”
Councillors Margaret Bird and Dave Boushy voted against proceeding.
Bird argued the city has an obligation to help the owners of expensive lakefront homes because they support the city through high property taxes.
The Bright’s Grove shoreline is being protected to give residents access to the lake, said Mayor Mike Bradley.
“Our obligation is to protect public property. It’s not our obligation to protect private property.”
Council agreed to push on following of a survey of property owners who live adjacent the old road right-of-way. Eighteen of 25 responded, and 10 of the 18 agreed the city owns the strip of land. Seven said the city doesn’t own it, and one was not certain.
City staff urged council to make a decision quickly to avoid more expensive emergency repairs.
The impacted property owners will be invited to speak to council before a final decision is made and before any action is taken to assert municipal ownership.
Staff estimates it could cost $7 million to $10 million to protect the 750 metres of shoreline.
A new pedestrian path, which would cross the Cull Drain and connect existing trails to the east and west, could cost another $2 million.