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Tourist Attraction
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Somehow the current state of maintenance at the berm and east harbour in Port Stanley just isn't cutting it as a tourist attraction.

Now we all know the Municipality of Central Elgin is waiting for Transport Canada to transform the berm area into parkland, as per the September 8, 2010 harbour divestiture agreement, and that it is unlikely Transport Canada will even start that process before 2017, but is that a justifiable excuse to let the area become a weed overgrown, unsightly mess?

Tourism is the life-blood of Port Stanley's economy and our merchants have a very short season in which to earn the vast majority of their annual revenues. The look and feel of a place has a major impact on that community's ability to attract tourists. This point was strongly driven home to me on my recent tour of ports and towns along the lake shores of Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

When you drive down Port Stanley's Main Street and get to the most southerly end, you are not greeted by a sight of amenable parkland or a nicely paved parking lot, or even an area where the grass has been cut. No, the vista that our visitors behold is an east harbour with cracked pavement and loose coal deposits, being used primarily as a transport truck parking lot or stop over for motor homes. Tall weeds grow in the coal field and the actual berm area has dense weeds taller than I am. Turn left and follow the road to the Little Beach parking lot and you find a much-reduced-in-size and deeply rutted sand parking lot with sand hills ploughed maybe 20 feet in height to block the former vehicle access into the berm area. At the other end cement blocks now prevent vehicle access. Weeds of every kind and description are allowed to grow unchecked. The area looks worse now than it did when our late Mayor Sylvia Hofhuis got the fertilizer tanks taken down.

I asked Mayor Bill Walters why the municipality did not at least keep the weeds/grasses cut while waiting for Transport Canada to fulfill their commitment? He said he'd ask Lloyd Perrin about it. When I heard nothing back, I asked Walters again after the July 3rd, 2014 Council meeting and he said he'd forgotten to ask. I still have received no answer.

Now the municipality has property standards by-laws that limit the height of weeds and grasses to a maximum of 8 inches. Property owners are also required to destroy all noxious weeds and I certainly spotted a number of weeds growing on the berm that are listed in the province's list of 25 noxious weeds. Property owners in our municipality are also required to remove dead, decayed or damaged trees or other growth and their branches and limbs; ground cover, hedges and bushes which are unreasonably overgrown; and injurious insects, termites, rodents, vermin and other pests. With large pools and ruts of standing, stagnant water, the area is a mosquito breeding ground, increasing the possibility of a resident or visitor to the area contracting West Nile Virus.

But there's a little catch with the existing Property Standards by-laws and the proposed new amalgamated Property Standards by-law - it does not apply to publicly owned land; therefore the municipality does not have to abide by its own Property Standards by-law(s). Not one of the municipalities I visited during my recent travels along the lake shores of Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay would have left a publicly owned waterfront area in the disgraceful shape that is the current condition of our berm and east pier - and the remediation of the east pier is Central Elgin's responsibility, not Transport Canada's.

In 2010 I donated 200 tulip tree seedlings I'd purchased from the KCCA to the municipality to line the walkway planned for the berm. They've been growing in the municipality's nursery ever since and Lloyd Perrin tells me they are doing well and they've only lost two of them. Tulip trees lining that walkway would look striking each spring and provide good shade in the summers. It will create a look Sylvia would have loved. By the time the municipality and Transport Canada get around to actually creating the parkland, these seedlings should be sizable young trees. In the meantime, would keeping the weeds and grasses cut to within our property standards by-laws really be such an onerous task? Can't we at least pretend we are trying to attract tourists?

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