The Municipality of Kincardine council voted unanimously to have the Lifesaving Society perform an aquatic safety audit of Station Beach and the north and south piers.
The purpose of the audit is to maximize safety operating practices and to identify areas needing improvement to lessen the risk of drownings and water-related injuries at Station Beach. The scope of the audit was described in the council agenda and would include an “inspection of the beach and the north and south piers, a review of literature of beach operations and interviews with personnel.”
The issue of water safety in Kincardine has been brought to the forefront of public concern following the drowning death of 16-year-old Lucas Johnson of Goderich in August. Over the past seven years four people have drowned off of Station Beach.
In front of a full audience containing family and friends of those who had lost their lives along Kincardine’s beach, council heard from three delegations urging for the motion to be passed.
“This is very much a community issue,” said Graham Hancock, the brother of Michael Hancock who drowned off Station Beach in 2008 while rescuing his daughter and a friend. “[This is] something that goes to the heart of the community. We’re a lakeside community and we have an accountability to visitors to the community.”
Hancock noted there were no long-term Kincardine residents among the victims, “which strikes me that awareness of that hazard is perhaps an issue.”
There are warning signs, but, as he and other delegates argue, they are insufficient.
He then proposed for the immediate initiation and implementation of a water safety team made of diverse groups such as members of township staff, councillors, Ontario Provincial Police, Emergency Medical Service and of the public.
“You’ll notice that this is something that moved the whole community, and that they want to see change,” he concluded.
Local businessman Matt Harvey, who dubbed the area of contention the “South Pier Danger Zone,” highlighted the need for better awareness. Although swimming is technically prohibited in this hazardous area, there is limited signage informing swimmers of this and no enforcement.
“There are no signs anywhere, along the pier, at the beach, anywhere to say there is no swimming. Thousands of people come there every year to enjoy the beach unsuspecting of the dangers that come with it,” he said.
Harvey said statistically, if nothing changes, six more lives could be lost from drowning in the next 10 years.
“So I appeal to you, it takes a committed, strong, brave council that is serious about saving lives from this dangerous zone. You have an opportunity to set a new standard, a new example for other communities to follow,” he said.
His said The Blue Flag Program (an environment and safety non-profit, non-government organization) is currently reviewing its designation of Station Beach and may revoke its Blue Flag status depending on the actions being taken.
However, Harvey contests that Kincardine shouldn’t let the beach be stripped of its accreditation — the municipality should remove it voluntarily.
“Show that Blue Flag organization that you respect the institution, you’re serious about the Blue Flag that you’ve earned and we’re not prepared to fly it until we are convinced we have done everything possible to save lives,” he said.
The final delegation was Rod Kennedy, who was uncle to the recently deceased Lucas Johnson.
After thanking the community and those involved in the ill-fated search and rescue of his nephew, Kennedy said that Kincardine cannot be “indifferent” to this issue.
“We must honour the memory of each and every victim by making improvements to beach safety, and try the best we can — All we can do is try to prevent future tragedies,” he said.
His one suggestion to the council was to hire a lifeguard equipped with all necessary rescue equipment during summer.
The auditorium emptied following a unanimous vote by councillors, leaving few audience members for the remainder of the meeting.
The audit by Lifesaving Society (an “organization working to prevent drowning and water-related injury,” as per its website) is to be conducted within 2015 at an estimated cost of $2,500 from the Recreation Reserve Fund 72.
The audit must be done by January 2016, in time for the application for the Blue Flag program.…