By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A bid by the Municipality of Chatham-Kent to act as a purchasing agent for the Rondeau Cottagers Association is over.
Environmental activist Ken Bell, who led the charge against the move, said he received an e-mail notice from Ontario Parks director Jason Travers stating the government is “not currently pursuing” Chatham-Kent’s proposed course of action.
“It means that Rondeau will still be owned by the public,” Bell said, adding that as long as the Ontario government owns the park, cottagers have to “follow the rules” laid out by the province.
While the issue of cottages being located in the provincial park has been a thorny one for years, Bell said the latest concern involved Chatham-Kent offering to purchase the leased cottages at fair value. In turn the municipality proposed reselling the lots to current cottage leaseholders.
The proposed deal would have involved privatizing a portion of Rondeau Provincial Park by purchasing 279 extended leased lots for $29.2-million.
After the collective purchase, Chatham-Kent proposed selling the lots exclusively back to existing cottagers.
When contacted by The Chatham Voice, David Colby, the president of the Rondeau Cottagers Association, said he had no comment on the issue.
Bell said the municipality’s plan was problematic on a number of levels as Rondeau is technically not within Chatham-Kent, and not under the municipality’s legal jurisdiction.
“Except for a narrow fence line at the park entrance, the entirety of the Rondeau sandspit is surrounded by federal waters,” Bell explained.
Bell said he caught wind of the plan about a year ago. The Shrewsbury resident subsequently started a petition against the proposal, garnering more than 12,000 signatures against the municipality’s proposal.
He also continued to send e-mails to Premier Doug Ford and other government officials.
According to Bell, Chatham-Kent CAO Don Shropshire made the case in May 2021 that annexing the public parkland would bring more revenue into the municipality.
“My point railing on this was municipal involvement,” Bell said. “Getting the cottagers out of the park is a totally different story.”
The e-mail from Travers gives no hint to what Ontario’s future plans are for Rondeau, but it does say the province is considering unnamed options.
No decisions have been made, it states, adding various stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, will be consulted on any further action.
Rondeau Provincial Park is the second oldest park in Ontario, second only to Algonquin Provincial Park.
Cottager owners have been given two extensions to remain in the park. In 1986, the government extended the leases to 2017.
In 2017, a two-year extension to 2019 was granted but no further action has been taken at this time.