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Coronavirus: Cobourg council opts to keep Victoria Beach open for walk-through traffic, discourages visitors

Victoria Park Beach is one of the major tourist attractions in the Town of Cobourg.
Victoria Park Beach is one of the major tourist attractions in the Town of Cobourg. File

After a long back-and-forth discussion on the matter, Cobourg council, sitting as a committee of the whole in a virtual meeting, decided to keep Cobourg’s beach open for walk-through traffic only during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and state of emergency.

Council had two options on the table at Monday night’s meeting: keep the beach open for walk-through traffic with enforcement of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) or close the beach and erect fencing for the duration of the provincial state of emergency (to be pushed until June 2 at the earliest).

“Going forward, the monitoring the beach is very important,” said Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin. “It’s a hard question; either one of them would work. My concern is July and August with the heavy summer months coming. We need to know for sure that our citizens are safe and we don’t want the beach crowded as in previous years.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus — Cobourg, Port Hope staying the course on closures, restrictions for now

Coun. Brian Darling noted that circumstances are constantly changing.

“The long weekend is coming up and the weather is not sunbathing weather,”  said Darling. “Things are so dynamic and changing so fast. We might support this today and in two weeks today, we might support the other half of it.”

Coun. Adam Bureau argued that fencing off the beach would not guarantee people’s safety.

“If you fence off the beach, people are still coming,” said Bureau. “It’s not like we fence it off and the people in Toronto won’t know we’ve done that until they’ve got here. We saw that with the flood in 2017 — where did they go? They all went downtown.

“Unless we educate central Ontario that don’t come, come later, that will pose a safety risk of social distancing in our downtown and everywhere else.”

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According to a staff report, the community saw its first nice weather day of the beach season on May 2 and saw upwards of 200 people on Victoria Beach. Although most were using the area as a walk-through, there were instances where bylaw and police officers had to remind visitors at the beach that there were rules in place that must be followed under the EMCPA.

“In the last week, we had 35 recommendations for social distancing, 28 people sitting on benches and on the beach, so we moved them along,” said municipal clerk Brent Larmer. “We’ve averaged about 20 warnings on the emergency orders as well. We’ve had some fishing warnings as well and we’ve been answering inquiries by residents.

“If you have 500 people on the beach, it doesn’t matter if you have the army down there. It does come down to human power. We’re doing our best to monitor it.”

Residents demand green spaces reopen in Northumberland during coronavirus pandemic
Residents demand green spaces reopen in Northumberland during coronavirus pandemic

Council agreed to revisit the motion to potentially close the beach to the public at the June 1 committee of the whole meeting. Staff will provide a report at that time, detailing how many people used the beach and how enforcement was carried out over the May long weekend.

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Some councillors also raised the issue of needing more advertising to say it’s not a normal year for tourism.

“Whether our beach is fenced off or not, it is closed to normal beach activity,” said Coun. Emily Chorley. “We need to utilize our tourism and advertising budget to say, ‘We normally would welcome you with open arms, but now is not the time to visit Cobourg.’

“Our beach is boring now. Don’t bother coming for just a stroll.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Northumberland Hills Hospital restricts visitors, cancels non-essential services

Séguin also stressed the importance of getting that message out.

“There are still going to be people on our beach and in our parks on the long weekend in May,” said Séguin. “If that’s the case, who knows what we will be dealing with in two weeks’ time. I’m really concerned. We need to get the message out to our outlying areas, we need to keep our community safe.”

Coun. Aaron Burchat said he hopes the beach can stay open for the benefit of local residents without attracting crowds from out of town.

“The health and well being of individuals — they want to continue to stroll through the park and still do those things. This gives residents that opportunity,” said Burchat. “As long as we don’t advertise events and things like that, I’m hoping that people will stay away.”

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Northumberland County farmers rally for front-line workers at Cobourg hospital, long-term care home
Northumberland County farmers rally for front-line workers at Cobourg hospital, long-term care home

The town’s marketing department is working on a video campaign to promote Cobourg for tourism once the pandemic is over.  That will be ready to go later this week.

But director of community services Dean Hustwick warned that any larger campaign to target the Greater Toronto Area would require a lot more money.

“We’re talking tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, to mount any credible campaign to influence the GTA or anyone coming to Ontario,” he said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Ontario government expected to extend state of emergency to June 2

Councillors also voted to extend no-charge transit services and free parking in all municipal lots and at all municipal parking metres until May 31.

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Any taxpayers on the pre-authorized payment plan with concerns about paying their next installment due June 10 may contact the finance department to discuss payment arrangements.

Council also endorsed the Cobourg Farmers’ Market to use the Albert Street parking lot for curbside pickup starting Saturday, May 23.

The market is also moving to an e-commerce model for the duration of the pandemic.

The matter returns for final approval at the May 19 council session.