By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Following a motion made at Monday’s council meeting to reopen Cobourg’s Victoria Park beach July 6, council instead passed the amendment by Councillor Brian Darling to keep it closed through Aug. 31 as originally planned – in a unanimous vote.
Though two citizens did make presentations to Monday’s council meeting against the reopening, councillors were also swayed by amazing numbers of telephone calls and e-mails on a matter that is obviously important to them. Mayor John Henderson (who personally responded to 324 personal e-mails and phone calls) characterized the response as the greatest he’d received in his years as mayor, saying he suspected each councillor could say the same of his or her own experience. He estimated the response as 80% in favour of keeping the beach closed.
Each councillor expressed thanks to the many people who made sure to express their concerns.
“The passion you all expressed was amazing, whether you wanted to keep the beach closed or open in some manner,” Deputy Mayor Suzanne Seguin said.
The response really took off, Henderson said, when the 10-page report outlining the challenges of a reopening began going viral. The report, prepared in a marathon three days at council direction by Director of Community Services Dean Hustwick, calculated that the beach could – with proper social distancing – accommodate up to 1,500 people at a time. To make it happen, Hustwick’s report calculated costs for staffing access points, lifeguards, washroom costs, wristbands, communications and other expenses could range from $219,000 to $377,000.
Making the amendment to keep the beach closed, Darling cited “what I have seen on the news and the comments we have had and what I have seen with other beaches.
“After the staff report on costs and what seems a logistical nightmare to open the beach and control everything, I think it’s best to keep the beach closed until Aug. 31. This COVID thing isn’t going away any time soon.”
Councillor Adam Bureau agreed.
“It’s too costly. It’s putting our citizens at risk,” Bureau said.
A lot of people opposed to reopening had wanted to open the beach to Cobourg citizens only, but the councillor reminded everyone that even this limited reopening means staffing entrance points to ensure only Cobourg citizens are admitted.
“I for one am not willing to put anyone at risk to do that. To me, it has to be closed for the safety of our citizens,” Bureau stated.
Even Councillor Emily Chorley, who put forward the motion to reopen, supported keeping the beach closed – too great a cost, too much risk, and not enough benefit to the community, she calculated.
Chorley also said she kept hearing the same kind of concerns that had been circulating prior to the pandemic about managing tourism – and especially what to do about a beach that always seemed too busy.
“I think what’s clear today is that we need to have a long-overdue conversation about our approach to managing the popularity of our beach, but that conversation needs to come after this state of emergency, not during,” she said.
“Looking ahead to September and beyond, perhaps even into next year’s summer season, I think we will need to consider other options like resident passes and thinking creatively of how we can mitigate risks.”