A battle is brewing between cottagers and year-round residents in Minaki, Ont., and Manitoba businessmen who are trying to redevelop the site of a former resort lodge that burned down 10 years ago.
“The idea is to make it into a resort community where people can come and spend the summer,” said David Banman, whose father Bob is one of the two Manitoba businessmen who want to redevelop the site.
The plan is to convert the existing hotel rooms into 56 condo units and build 96 new cottages.
“What we're looking to do is put something together that will be sustainable but will also be really responsible to the local environment as well as the heritage,” Banman said.
The Canadian National Railway built the luxury resort in 1914 and for decades it was a wilderness playground. However, numerous owners lost money on it for years and the lodge building burned down in a suspicious fire in 2003.
Most lifelong residents and the Minaki Cottager’s Association would like to see the site used and redeveloped, but they don't like these plans.
“What they're proposing is far too many people to bring in here. When you put that concentration of boats in a small area, accidents are bound to happen,” said Alex Rheault, who has run a nearby resort for the last 35 years and lived in the area his entire life.
Longtime cottager Mark Engebretson said balance is the key to any new development at Minaki.
“Minaki has always been more remote, less dense, wilder, rougher, scarier, and it became that way around a high-end development, the original Minaki Lodge. It worked because the high-end was balanced against a lack of density,” he said.
The cottager’s association has raised more than $100,000 to hire its own experts. They found the sewage treatment plant is another big concern.
“The developer proposes to use the existing sewage treatment plant which was built 25 years ago," Engebretson said.
"It was state-of-the-art when it was built and it’s still a good plant but the cottagers association engaged two sewer engineers and both concluded the densities proposed by the developers would overrun the plant."
If that happens, raw sewage would flow downstream to Lake Winnipeg, which is already one of the most polluted lakes in Canada according to the international environmental group Global Nature Fund.
“I was really perplexed about why they would be proposing to do something like that without upgrading the sewage treatment,” said Vicki Burns, a spokesperson for the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.
“Human sewage is part of the problem of what's causing toxic blue green algae blooms in a lot of our waterways. So any new development should really be putting the most progressive sewage treatment into place.”
The developers have already received a permit to use the treatment plant from Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, even though it won’t filter out the phosphorus.
“I can't understand why they're being allowed to not meet the goal of one [millilitre] of phosphorus per litre of effluent. Nowadays the one mil per litre is a very common standard we're seeing in any kind of wastewater treatment, in the effluent,” Burns said.
Minaki is in an unincorporated area with no municipal government. That means the provinceof Ontario is responsible for making all the decisions, said Terry Rees, executive director of the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Association.
“It is really important that they take local interests and local input into account,” he said.
“This would be the case in any waterfront development, that they look at the longterm implications for this type of development, not only on the economy, jobs and construction jobs and ongoing employment, but also how that will be sustained in the long term.”
Banman disputed many of the concerns.
“With all the reports and studies that we've done we feel really confident with what we're putting forward that it's going to be a good project," he said.
"We also have some pride in the project and believe it's going to be really good not only for new residents coming in but also the community residents as well. We feel we'll be in full compliance with anything the government of Ontario wants us to do.”
The developers hope to get a decision from Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing soon, so they can start work on the development next spring.