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Town council moving forward with boat ramp at Ranta Park

Amherstburg Town Hall

Town council moving ahead with a boat ramp at Ranta Park, thus going against an administrative recommendation.

The move sees a $1.6 million option for a ramp at the end of the park given the green light, despite several members of council believing it would exceed the $1.6 million estimate in a report from director of parks, recreation and facilities Heidi Baillargeon. The motion called for public consultation to begin and that administration investigate possible funding sources.

Baillargeon's written report concluded with the recommendation that a boat ramp at that location not proceed. Baillargeon cites “the significant financial commitment and resources required to pursue this initiative further, coupled with the fact that the Town would be in direct competition with the abutting boat launch at Ranta Marina” as reasons not to move forward.

Town council voted 6-1 to proceed with Councillor Linden Crain being the only one to vote in opposition.

Boaters have pressed for public access to the water for several years, including a desire to have a boat launch at the Duffy's lands which is now being proposed for park development as the Navy Yard Park extension. The town has been investigating the possibility of installing a ramp at Ranta Park for two years.

Rodney Ferriss, president of the AMA Sportsmen’s Association, asked council to consider going ahead with the public boat launch. He told town council at Monday night’s meeting that he read the report and the two options for the boat ramp’s location.

“The second of the two proposals makes more sense. There would need to be parking for at least 40 trucks and trailers,” said Ferriss. “The ramp entering directly out into the Canard River would be doable. The prevailing winds are southwest and knowing wind can be an issue, I would suggest contacting Walker Aggregates to see if they would be interested in a donation of boulders for a breakwall.”

Ferriss said he was also aware there would be need to be approvals from both the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) and various government agencies.

“Not that a breakwall would help eliminate or slow down the build-up of silt that settles in the canals and the Canard River,” said Ferriss.

Ferriss said there could be economic and tourism benefits to Amherstburg with a public boat launch.

“While I am aware marinas don’t make money, I am aware that if the town, along with groups such as the AMA Sportsmen, put together a plan for things such as a silver bass derby and walleye derby – and advertise in your tourism plan – the spin-off is money being spent in the town,” he said. “Starting small and building on things is the key to the town’s success.”

Ferriss referenced the last time he was at town council asking for a public boat launch in 2022.

“I would ask town administration to consider moving forward with working on a plan for a public boat launch,” said Ferriss. “It’s only been two years from the time this has been asked for and I feel it’s too soon to give up on it.”

Ferriss said he drives by the park regularly and believes not only is public access paramount, but there is a lot the town can do there. He said the club would like to have fishing tournaments right at a marina, something they can't do now.

“There's so much potential for the town,” he said. “I would like to see the town reconsider (Baillargeon's recommendation) and look to see how we can make it doable.”

Ferriss added while the town likely won't make money at it, it would be an asset for the future and be a public spot for people to access the water. He said private marinas could change hands in the future but a public boat launch protects access to the water.

“The biggest mistake this town made was getting rid of Ranta Marina,” he said, of the neighbouring property. “It was an asset going forward.”

The town sold the marina but kept the park. Ranta Marina has now been renamed River Canard Yacht Club by its current owners Jones Realty, though the latter did not purchase it in the beginning.

Ferriss believed a $20 fee per day to put a boat in the water was respectable, stating it would likely be the standard once a town facility was ready. He added with the price of gas, “I can afford to pay $20” to  launch the bat.

“We're here to get Amherstburg a public boat launch. It's not competing with anything,” he said. “We're asking for the town to secure a future. It's about the future of the town.”

Baillargeon's report states town council started to receive correspondence and public delegations in 2022. She said administration was requested to investigate the possibility of installing a public boat ramp at the park. Baillargeon's report noted a request from the AMA Sportsmen Association in 2022 requesting the boat ramp at Ranta Park.

“In 2023, Jones Realty Inc. installed new infrastructure that currently allows the general public to use the boat launch for $20 a day flat rate. Seasonal passes are still available to boaters with unlimited use and an occasional user launching only a few times a season can do so at the $20 a day rate. In addition to this launch location, Coopers Marina continues to be available at a flat rate of $15 a day,”

There are two options for a public boat launch at Ranta Park, one estimated at approximately $1.6 million. That would see 15 spots for boat trailers, be located on the far west end of the park and a long access road. The second option is estimated at $5.1 million. That proposed launch would be closer to the road with $1.3 of that $5.1 cost being for the dredging of the canal next to the park.

Baillargeon noted in her report that items warranting further investigations include access controls and a payment system, the possibility of illegal activity such as human trafficking and smuggling due to the “remote” nature of the park's location, a “significant” area for parking for vehicles and boat trailers, further dredging, need for additional permits including one that could be required through the Federal Navigation Protection Program, stormwater management due to increased hard surfaces, shoreline treatment and further studies that could be required.

Archeological assessments, soil test pits and “minor survey work” has cost $31,000 thus far, the report states.

Councillor Don McArthur thanked Baillargeon for her report, but noted the park is difficult to access, particularly when it has rained. He said surveys were done in the past stating more people would use the park if there was more to do and that parking was also an issue. He questioned how much it would cost to increase the amount of parking spots from the 15 quoted in the report to 30, with Baillargeon noting soil is a factor. She said it used to be swampland for much of what is now parkland.

“Soil conditions are not the greatest,” she said, stating a “substantial amount of stone” would be needed for the two-lane driveway and parking lot before it was paved. There is also no site servicing in that part of the park currently, she added.

McArthur noted the Strategic Plan calling for waterfront access, and that the ramp is feasible at that location.

“Council needs to suck it up at budget time and save for it,” he said. “Administration is right. This is expensive.”

Noting it was a tough decision, McArthur added the ramp won't happen overnight.

“A journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step and we can take that step tonight,” he said.

Councillor Peter Courtney, who made the motion to proceed with the $1.6 option, questioned how the town would fulfill its Strategic Plan when part of it includes access to water. Baillargeon said access can come in many forms, from fishing piers to other ways. CAO Valerie Critchley added creating access can come in different forms, citing work at the Navy Yard Park extension as an example.

“(The ramp) is feasible, but it's about cost,” she said, adding some projects in the five-year capital budget may have to be delayed or eliminated. Deputy CAO Melissa Osborne also said some project may have to be “pushed out” due to budgetary pressures.

Going forward may also include fish and sensitive habitat studies, a process that could take up to two years, she added, though Courtney questioned that time frame.

Courtney said after the meeting there is funding bequeathed to the town from the Ranta family that could be used as part of the process. He added he would have no difficulty altering the five-year capital plan.

“I have no problem moving and shaking the capital plan,” he said.

Mayor Michael Prue was supportive of Courtney's motion, and called on the AMA Sportsmen’s Association to work with partners and potential sources of materials to help offset costs.

Prue said “dreams should not come to council to die” and that while cost is important, there is more to it. He told AMA members “I'm hoping you go out there and beat the bushes. We have to have private enterprise support public entities in the process. We have to get the cost down.”

Both Prue and Gibb believed the cost could come in at upwards of $2.5 million.

The mayor said he originally thought it would be a difficult vote to proceed based on cost, but noted he said he would support public access to the water when he ran for mayor in 2022.

“I'm not going to go back on my word,” he said.

“If we do this, we have to do this the right way,” said Councillor Molly Allaire, noting 15 parking spots identified in the report garnered some criticism when she posted plans on social media. “I think it's important we have access to the water.”

Allaire agreed with Ferriss' statement earlier in Monday night's meeting that it is for future generations.

“It's about leaving the town in a better spot for the future,” she said.

“This is a no-brainer,” added Courtney.

The town still owns a lot of waterfront land at the park itself and that the ramp can be expanded and altered as needed going forward.

“We don't have to build a Taj Mahal now,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Chris Gibb said the cost “floored” him after reading the report but was swayed by what Ferriss stated.

“It's too soon to give up on this,” said Gibb. “Nothing good happens overnight.”

Gibb thanked Baillargeon for her “fearless honesty” but said public access to the water is very important to him.

“I'm not willing to give up,” he said.

Crain said he was not able to support the motion.

“The cost is way too high,” he said. “We are now in direct competition with the private business next door.”

Crain feared possible legal issue and said other projects would have to be delayed or the town would have to go into further debt for a new boat ramp.

“I'm all for public access to the waterfront but right now, this does not seem feasible,” said Crain.

Councillor Diane Pouget supported moving forward and believed Open Air Weekends are an example of competing with the private sector as some businesses benefit by it while others are negatively impacted or don't have access to the closed streets. Pouget said she wanted public input on the boat ramp plan as soon as possible, something Baillargeon stated earlier would be part of the process.

Town council moving forward with boat ramp at Ranta Park

By Ron Giofu





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