ROBIN BOOKER/BRANDON SUN
Residents of Clear Lake's old campground will soon have the option of hooking up to sewer and water.
A decision to install individual water and sewer hookups at Clear Lake’s old campground has left a once unified community divided.
The debate to install the services has been a contentious one, with cabin owners on each side of issue.
(Robin Booker/Brandon Sun) (ROBIN BOOKER/BRANDON SUN)
While many residents support the Clear Lake Cabins Association’s decision to install sewer and water, some believe the services are unnecessary and have voiced concerns over how the board reached its decision.
"Our concern is over the process," said Bruce Hembroff, former president of the CLCA and current board member. "If (the CLCA) had held a vote and the majority want the hookups, then the rest would accept it, but that didn’t happen and people feel like they’ve been cheated. When you pay your membership and you don’t even have a voice, then people feel like they are being denied their democratic right."
Hembroff is part of a group that doesn’t believe sewer and water hookups are necessary in the area, choosing instead to continue to use the shared washroom facilities located at the heart of the campground.
The hookup, which will cost each cabin owner $5,000 regardless of whether they want the service or not, is something Hembroff said not all cabin owners can afford.
"The expense gets quite large very quickly and there is a lot of people that plain old can’t afford it," Hembroff said.
"There is also a group that can afford it, but it’s going to impact their life somewhere else. Those people are essentially forced out."
One cabin owner presented those facts to the board ahead of its general meeting.
"She had tears in her eyes and she indicated to the board that if the sewer and water goes through, there is no way she can afford it," Hembroff said.
"They don’t understand the impact they are having on people’s lives and the part that bothered me the most was their total lack of empathy for her. They just could not appreciate her position at all and there appears to be a skewed moral compass there somewhere."
Another cabin owner, who wished to remain anonymous, believes the very essence and aura of the campground will be ruined by the hookups that will allow some owners to convert their cabins into something that more closely resembles a home rather than a summer retreat.
"I am upset that the water-sewer lobby group has finally figured out a way to push their agenda and change the whole meaning behind the camping area," the cabin owner said.
"It was never meant to be high-cost cottages for the wealthy. I feel that it is just another power grab by the wealthy to push out families who wanted an alternative camping experience."
On Canada Day, tension surrounding the issue boiled over at the meeting held at Jamboree Hall.
"It was a gong show," Hembroff said. "It was a very emotional meeting and I don’t think anything was really resolved."
According to CLCA president Trevor Winters, prior to the meeting even beginning, one resident, using a bull horn, put forward a point of order that the board exceeded their constitutional authority when they negotiated with Parks Canada to move ahead with sewer and water.
"The motion was out of order, but I made a decision to allow a vote on the point of order even though it was unconstitutional," Winters said, adding that it was difficult to count the vote in the hall, but 161 opposed the motion while 109 were in support.
"I opted to bastardize the process of parliamentary procedure because I really wanted to talk to people and explain the process and answer all the questions about the dual system," Winters said.
The dual system, which will allow cabin owners to choose whether or not they wish to hook up to sewer and water but will charge all cabin owners for the infrastructure needed to deliver the service, is the fairest compromise between the two competing groups, Winters said.
"I really wish we could find a different way of funding the infrastructure, but under municipal law there isn’t one," Winters said. "This is the best, most fair and reasonable decision for this area. It satisfies everyone here and it satisfies Parks Canada."
By satisfying Parks Canada, Winters is referring to federal legislation that requires buildings in national parks be hooked up to sewer and water where there are existing lines in front of the property.
Since the park laid new sewer and water lines in the 1990s, to effectively plumb the shared washroom facilities, a good portion of the campground falls under the regulation already and there is the ability to extend existing lines so that all of the campground could be hooked up.
"It’s a regulation to govern water and sewer in national parks … and it says the buildings shall, it doesn’t say may or can, shall connect," said Dale Wallis, townsite manager for Riding Mountain National Park. "It’s about public safety and environmental integrity as far as ensuring we capture all the waste water in that community."
The park is in favour of the hookups, Wallis said, adding that this is another step in providing services in the campground that many people deem essential.
"The campground has evolved over the last 50 years … so really this is a continued part of an evolution as people’s lifestyles have changed," Wallis said.
Hembroff isn’t buying that the change to the dual system is to comply with federal regulations.
"The park has total authority," Hembroff said.
"The park has found a group that will do their dirty work for them and I think their behaviour hasn’t been appropriate. Where were these acts before and how did we exist here since 1930 without them?"
The general meeting, which began in turmoil, ended the same way after Winters abruptly adjourned the meeting when he was unable to maintain order.
"(Those opposed to sewer and water) waited until they had superior numbers and then bounced a motion forward," said Winters, estimating that close to 200 people left the meeting prior to its conclusion.
"The motion came at the end of the meeting to recall the board and the decision for the dual system be reconsidered … We ruled that motion was out of order and that started a huge hubbub, and I recognized that was part of their plan — to try to embarrass everyone. So I called order and they kept going, yelling ‘Point of order! Point of order!’
"At that point I apologized and because I could no longer get or keep order at the meeting, I adjourned the meeting until this fall."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 13, 2012