Sauble Beach has had its Blue Flag status pulled because of changes to South Bruce Peninsula’s beach maintenance policy.
Environmental Defence, the charitable organization that administers the Blue Flag program in Canada, issued a statement on Wednesday calling the town’s decision to extend beach raking at Sauble a step backwards that “shows disregard for the ecological protection of Sauble Beach and its endangered bird life.”
Brett Tryon, program manager for Blue Flag Canada at Environmental Defence, said the decision to pull the Blue Flag status was immediate and her organization was very disappointed they had to make the move.
“They have been provided with a lot of scientific evidence and advice from environmental experts, the (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry), and ourselves and we urged them to make the right decision,” said Tryon. “Instead they decided to vote in favour of destroying dune habitat and habitat for endangered species.”
South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson said she isn’t worried about Blue Flag status being pulled from the town.
“Our residents would rather have a clean beach than a Blue Flag above the washrooms,” Jackson said. “I hear the complaints about the state of the beach all the time and I need to listen to everybody, and our council needs to listen to everybody.”
Tryon said it is the first time her organization has revoked a Blue Flag status from a community, something she called very disheartening.
“We have worked with the town and the Friends of Sauble Beach for 10 years on this,” Tryon said. “It is really sad to have to take the Blue Flag away, but it was a decision we were forced to make.”
On Tuesday, South Bruce Peninsula council amended its beach maintenance policy to allow for raking of the beach to the water’s edge. it will also allow the town to level out and rake some dunes that have formed to the west of the original dunes that run along the side of Lakeshore Blvd. Under the former policy raking was permitted up to 30 feet from the water’s edge and up to 30 feet from the dunes.
“This bylaw doesn’t enable us to rake and till the beach, we already had that in our policy,” said Jackson. “This bylaw just defined the areas we can rake and till.”
Jackson said Monday it was her understanding that the Blue Flag designation applied to the south end of the beach, yet the additional raking the town wants to do is an area in the north end, a move that led to what Jackson referred to as “threats” by Environmental Defence to remove the Blue Flag. Town staff took down the flags on Wednesday afternoon.
Jackson said the town plans to do some raking of an area of the northern stretches of the beach once the endangered piping plovers leave in August. The area hasn’t been raked since the plovers first nested there six years ago.
Jackson said the majority of people she hears from want the beach cleaned up.
“We have 3,400 voters alone at Sauble Beach and I hear from them all the time and they are really upset with the state of the beach,” said Jackson. “As a council we ned to listen to everybody.”
Jackson said the Friends of Sauble Beach are a vocal minority, who are not willing to work to find a happy medium.
“They say they are willing to meet in the middle, but in the end they send a very strong message that we are not to touch that beach at all as if they own it,” said Jackson.
Environmental Defence says that raking all the way to the water’s edge would remove important habitat for the plovers.
“That area along the water’s edge is known as the ribbon of life, so it is a very important habitat for piping plovers and other species,” said Tryon. “It provides cover from predators and storms, it provides a food source and so taking away that habitat would be detrimental to the species.”
Because the plovers have nested in various locations at Sauble Beach, the majority of the beach from 2nd Street north to the river is protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), according to Environmental Defence.
But Jackson claimed in an interview on Monday that the town has met with MNRF officials and were told that they could clean up areas of the beach were plovers had not been for five years.
In response to Jackson’s comments that appeared in a Sun Times article on Tuesday, Tryon wrote in an e-mail that the ministry had not provided a timeframe for “habitat tenure” for the plovers.
“It is unclear where the mayor came up with this five-year timeframe. but there is no such limit,” Tryon wrote. “Furthermore, the plovers have in fact nested at the north end of the beach in the last five years. There was a nest in 2012.”
Jackson said the MNRF seems to be changing their rules all the time and she plans to contact senior ministry officials about the beach raking issue.
Suzanne Robinson, a species at risk biologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Blue Flags are flying at 25 beaches and six marinas in Canada and require communities to meet a number of standards in water quality, environmental management, environmental education and safety and services.
Tryon said Blue Flag status is a source of pride for the community.
“There are a lot of people from Sauble Beach who are going to be very upset about this, especially those volunteers that have been involved with restoring the beach and monitoring plovers,” said Tryon. “Also it is a real boost for tourism, so I know that folks from the chamber of commerce and the tourism industry are going to be very disappointed with this decision because it is likely going to impact tourism.”
Tryon said her group would be OK with some non-invasive hand raking done on the beach after the plovers have left at the end of the season that does not remove items such as driftwood, or vegetation.
“Just to fluff up the sand and to clean up these zebra mussel shells, that would be fine,” said Tryon. “Of course, they must consult with the MNRF.”
Tryon said it is possible for Sauble Beach to get its Blue Flag status back.
“We would be happy if the town would reverse this decision and we would definitely welcome conversations with them about re-instating their Blue Flag designation,” said Tryon. “They really do need to show a commitment to sustainable practices.”