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It's 'all hands on deck' as city tries to tackle beach mayhem

'We’re not where we need to be yet,' says Mayor, who stresses the city 'will look at other measures because it needs to be brought under control'

The city says it needs “all hands on deck” and may institute further measures to dissuade sun-worshipping visitors from crowding Orillia’s parks and beaches.

At a virtual council meeting this week, city councillors agreed to waive the ordinary procedure to appoint Fire Chief Brent Thomas as a de facto municipal bylaw officer in an effort to augment efforts of the city’s four full-time bylaw officers.

The move comes after people packed Moose Beach and Couchiching Beach on a hot and sultry Saturday.

As Thomas went through the parks, he saw countless people violating bylaws and measures put in place to limit the number of visitors to local parks amid the pandemic. But he was not able to issue tickets.

“Our fire chief is out in the parks system regularly and dealing with folks around the operation of barbecues (which are not permitted in city parks),” said CAO Gayle Jackson.

She said at an emergency management committee (EMC) meeting Monday, it was suggested it would make sense to endow Thomas with the “additional ability to lay charges” as necessary.

Jackson said it’s a matter of having “all hands on deck” to help combat the issues the city is facing.

Barbecues are prohibited in municipal parks, however, the bylaw has not been widely enforced. That is about to change to keep people from congregating in large groups; signs are being erected to notify people.

Violators could face a $300 fine. Starting Thursday, the fire chief and other Orillia Fire Department staff will be in the parks to help enforce the cooking/barbecue prohibition.

Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke admitted Saturday was “challenging.” He said the city’s move to create small visitor-only parking lots at both city beaches and charge non-residents $50 to park and $50 to launch their boats had led to a “reduction in overall traffic” the past couple of weekends.

However, with Saturday’s “ideal weather,” people got “very creative” in finding places to park and ways to circumvent the measures in place.

The city’s bylaw enforcement officers were out in full force and issued 80 parking tickets last weekend. The fine for illegal parking has been increased to $100 - $80 if paid within seven days. The city can also tow vehicles which are parked without a resident parking permit or proof of parking/boat launch payment.

On Saturday, especially, many people parked illegally in the vacant lot on Highway 12 across from Tudhope Park and many cars shoe-horned their way into the old Pav lot at the corner of Bay and Jarvis; both those lots are privately owned.

“City staff are aware of visitors parking on private property near the waterfront parks in order to avoid having to pay $50,” said Jennifer Ruff, the city’s director of communications and business development.

She said staff are looking at “implementing solutions to address visitor parking on those privately-owned properties as we are unable to issue parking tickets in those areas without the property owner’s consent.”

Ruff said the city has sent letters to the property owners to “put them on notice that parking lots are not currently permitted on the properties due to existing” bylaws.

“We have also expanded the number of nearby streets that are designated for resident parking only,” said Ruff.

Ruff also had a warning for frustrated citizens.

“We have heard some members of the public are wishing to take matters into their own hands and block access to those privately-owned parking areas,” said Ruff. “We strongly advise against members of the public taking such action.”

Meanwhile, carloads of people looking for a refuge near water also discovered Kitchener Park last weekend. Many lined up to use the unofficial boat launch at the foot of West Street and swam in the waters near the soccer pitches.

City staff have been meeting this week to discuss the issues and potential solutions.

“We’re not where we need to be yet with measures and we will look to turn that around for this weekend,” said Clarke.

“If that doesn’t work, we will look at other measures because it needs to be brought under control.”

Coun. Ralph Cipolla suggested the city hire private security guards to augment the city’s corps of bylaw enforcement officers.

The city has just four full-time bylaw enforcement officers.

“We have serious problems” at the parks, Cipolla said, noting he witnessed first-hand the over-crowding on Saturday while walking through the parks. He said there are security issues behind the Aquatheatre.

“The issues we are facing at our local beaches and waterfront parks certainly aren't unique to Orillia and the city would like to thank residents for their support and patience as we continue to adapt and respond to the challenges presented by COVID-19,” said Ruff.

To date 6,224 resident parking permits have been issued to city taxpayers, allowing them to park for free at waterfront parks from Thursday to Sunday (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and holiday Mondays. Everyone else must pay $50.

Parking at all waterfront parks and boat launches is free to everyone from Monday to Wednesday.