Proposed Boat Dock & Mooring Regulations

Posted on Tuesday June 02, 2020 at 03:26PM

A resident has shared the letter they sent in regards to upcoming proposed changes to the Disturbance Standard which regulates boat dock and mooring standards.

Background information on the Proposed Mooring Standards

If you wish to send a letter (using the information below or drafting your own with any recommendations that you would propose), it could be sent to:
Alberta Environment and Parks - in charge of gathering information for these proposed standards:
The Honourable Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks
The Honourable Rick Wilson, MLA for Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin

Good morning. We would like to make you aware of the above noted Alberta Government initiative and our concerns...

We are a partner in a group, of 15 back lot owners, that owns 1.5 lots of shoreline land at the Summer Village of Itaska Beach, Pigeon Lake Alberta. I, with my wife, have owned my property for 20 years, and during that time spent hundreds of hours enjoying Pigeon Lake for fishing, waterskiing, wakesurfing, kayaking, canoeing and simply sitting out on the lake in the morning or evening enjoying a coffee, beer or glass of wine and taking in the beauty of the lake, its flora and fauna. Our two children, who are now 39 and 41, and their children, our grandchildren, are the next generation of our family who will take advantage of this wonderful natural space.

For the time that we have owned our property, we have placed a seasonal dock in the lake in front of our waterfront cottage. Our first dock was an old, narrow wooden dock. In a short time, in partnership with my neighbours, we agreed to share a much better quality dock system, and jointly purchased several dock sections from Western Boat Lift in St. Albert, Alberta. We chose the Floe aluminum dock system, for its robustness, aesthetic qualities, all aluminum construction, wheeled docks sections for ease of installation and removal, and wide dock sections for safety and durability. Properly cared for, this quality dock system will last for decades. The system we chose to purchase was, however, expensive. Over the years, we have invested tens of thousands of dollars in this system, together with boat lifts, to accommodate our lake access and watercraft moorage. Our shared dock extends from the property line between our 1.5 lots, minimizing dock area for the 1.5 lots on the lake. For all of those years, we have been respectful of our lake environment, its natural beauty, and ensured that our dock does not pose an impediment to any of our neighbours or fellow lake users.
I have reviewed all of the materials supporting the consultation process for the Proposed Disturbance Standard (“PDS”), and I attended the May 20 webinar hosted by AEP.

The dock system that we have used for the past 20 years would not be compliant with the PDS. The terminal area required to accommodate our boat lifts is in excess of the proposed maximum terminal area of 12m2. Also, for over 20 years we have attached the sun deck platforms we purchased for the dock system to the terminal platforms for the boat lifts, which would also I understand qualify as excess terminal platform under the PDS (as these are not swim platforms as currently defined in the PDS). The PDS, as drafted, is concerning for several reasons, as I articulate below. I also provide some feedback and recommendations on how the PDS could be improved such that it preserves its overall effectiveness as a regulatory tool for AEP’s management of lake access and resources, while preserving the ability of lake users, and especially lakefront owners, to access the lake for recreational purposes.

PDS Process
I became aware of the PDS public input process through an email forwarded by our Summer Village administrator on May 13, 2020. As outlined above, I attended the information webinar on May 20, and participated in the Q&A session as well as the various online polls conducted during the presentation. While I appreciate the effort that was made to provide this input and engagement opportunity, in my respectful submission it was deficient in several respects. They are:

  • The engagement process has been too short.
We were advised by the presenter during the May 20 webinar that the PDS is anticipated to receive ministerial approval by mid-June 2020. This hardly provides sufficient time for AEP to gather sufficient feedback from stakeholders and conduct a fulsome review of that feedback for the purposes of reconsidering and amending the draft PDS. With a feedback deadline of May 25 for online submissions, it would be impossible for AEP to carefully consider the feedback, draft any substantive changes to be made to the PDS based on same and recirculate the PDS for further comment by stakeholders prior to implementation. In my submission, given the importance of these proposed regulations for lake users, and especially Albertans who have invested significant sums to purchase lakefront properties, a robust and thorough process of consultation is appropriate and required. What has been conducted to date does not meet that standard. The rushed timelines outlined above raise the concern that AEP is simply “going through the motions” of a consultation process in order to have the new PDS in place in June of 2020, without giving time for real feedback and to permit real and substantive changes to the PDS based on that feedback.
  • The PDS appears to be, for the most part, pre-determined.
With reference in part to the comments in (1) above, my impression from the materials I reviewed and the information presented during the webinar was that for the most part AEP has already decided on the key aspects and metrics of the PDS. If that is the case, going through a public consultation process would appear to be irrelevant. For example, in one exchange during the presentation, the presenter stated that the maximum size for the terminal platform that would be considered is 12m2 (this being the mid-point size based on a jurisdictional review conducted by AEP, the specifics of which were neither offered nor available for review by stakeholders). The poll conducted online with respect to this issue offered three options for voting, the largest being 12m2, and two options with lower surface area. As a result, voters online were limited – they could not vote for a larger area than 12m2, which skews the responses in favour of 12m2 or lower. In other words, there may have been stakeholders who felt (as I do) that the maximum terminal area should be larger, but who did not have the opportunity to make that selection in the online vote.

Another troubling comment during the webinar made by the presenter was in relation to the use of dock systems for lake access. The presenter argued that docks have only one use – to access moored boats, and as a result, there was no need for a terminal platform larger than 12m2, and there was no need to permit any dock attachments other than “a bench” in the PDS, because users should not be enjoying dock access to the lake for any reason other than to access a moored watercraft. In my opinion, these are arbitrary and subjective opinions held by the presenter, they are not necessarily shared by others, including myself, as more fully articulated below.
As a result, I left the webinar with the distinct impression that AEP has already formed its opinion on several key aspects of the PDS and its implications, and that the presentation was not seeking real feedback that could lead to changes to the PDS, but rather, to present information and to advise attendees as to why the conclusions that AEP had already reached were justified. With respect, again, this does not reflect a proper and real consultative process with stakeholders.
  • The rationales used to support the proposed PDS have not been clearly articulated.
As outlined above, stakeholders have not been provided with access to the information or analysis conducted by AEP supporting the draft PDS. An example would be the jurisdictional review referenced by the presenter in the webinar. The presenter stated that terminal areas larger than 12m2 were confined to ocean coastal areas. I would be surprised if there were no other comparable lake jurisdictions that permitted terminal areas larger than 12m2. It would have been helpful to have access to this information as a stakeholder. Also as referenced above, many of the conclusions stated by the presenter during the webinar appeared to be personal subjective opinions as opposed to conclusions arrived at through analysis of data and the application of objective criteria. The latter is certainly preferred when drafting policies like the PDS.

Specific Aspects of the PDS
  • No standards for shared dock systems
The PDS does not provide any guidance with respect to shared dock systems. Given the overall goal of balancing lake access for users and lakefront owners with disturbance to the crown land, it would seem to me that shared docks should be encouraged and specifically accommodated in the PDS. For example, owners of shared docks might be permitted to use larger terminal platforms due to the efficiency of having one run into the lake for two or more properties.
  • Maximum terminal dock area is arbitrary, too low, and fails to accommodate variable boat, boat lift, lake and lake property conditions

Choosing the mid-point of terminal size arising from the reported jurisdictional review as the maximum size to be permitted in the PDS lacks justification – no evidence has been provided by AEP to support the reasonableness of this conclusion. This item is of particular concern, because several erroneous assumptions appear to be embedded in the materials that I reviewed that would appear to have been relied upon in proposing the 12m2 maximum size.
First, with reference to the infographic provided as part of the information package, it depicts terminal platform slips to accommodate boat lifts as being made up of dock sections that are 8 feet long. Most modern fishing and sport boats are in the 17 foot to 23 foot range in length. The lifts to accommodate them, including canopy length, are longer than 30 feet. A terminal slip of 8-12 feet is insufficient to accommodate either the boat or the lift, as users would be unable to safely and conveniently access the boat or the lift. Our boat lifts are Floe lifts and are built to accommodate boats between 17 and 23 feet in length. They require 32 foot slips (otherwise the boat is inaccessible, or the canopy of the lift hangs over the horizontal dock section in front, which renders passage on that dock section unsafe).
Second, the infographic depict a slip that is 6 feet wide. Again, this seems to ignore the fact that boat lifts to accommodate boats between 17 and 23 feet in length must be at least 12 feet wide to provide room for the lift frame.
Third, the infographic suggests that there can be safe access and use of the boat lift shown on the left side of the diagram (without a slip). This is, with respect, unrealistic and impractical. Most modern boat lifts (like the Floe lifts) are only safely accessible from the left side (user facing the lake), and not the right hand side, because the horizontal structural support bar and the battery and motor are located on the right side of the lift, barring access from that side. So with reference to the lift and boat shown on the infographic, there is no safe access to this boat lift because the dock runs only along the right side. I also observe that in the infographic, the boat is shown facing bow outward towards the water body, sitting in the lift. This is also unrealistic and impractical. It is not possible for modern stern drive or direct drive fishing or sport boats to enter boat lifts safely in this manner, as it would require them to navigate through water that is too shallow in order to move around to access the lift from the shore side. This would especially be the case in windy conditions, when navigating these watercraft to access a lift in such a manner would be unsafe and risk damage to the boat and dock.
As a result, safe access to two boat lifts on the terminal platform requires two full slips (one for each boat). The area required to accommodate two boats and boat lifts on a terminal platform would consist of, at minimum, 8 dock sections of 16 feet in length. Two are needed to run horizontally so that two slips can be created of at least 12 feet of width. Four more are needed to provide the fingers for safe access to the boats moored in the two boat lift slips. In the case of our dock, and referencing only my side of the shared dock and terminal platform, this would require an area of 384 square feet, or 35.67 square metres, almost three times the current allowable maximum.
Last, in lakes with low density of lakefront property and lake users, limiting terminal platforms to 12m2 in maximum area is unnecessary in order to ensure that conflict between user docks is minimized. This would, as argued above, especially be the case for shared dock systems.
  • Treatment of swim platforms ignores other lake uses and the needs of lake users who do not or cannot swim, or who want to access the lake for reasons other than boating

I have no observations on the rules proposed for floating swim platforms. I do have concerns about the implicit failure by the PDS to accommodate attached sun and swim platforms, similar to the ones we use with our system. We have used these for over 12 years. They are typically rectangular Floe platforms similar to the dock sections, 8 feet x 16 feet in size, and built to safely and securing connect to the Floe dock system. The PDS assumes that the only type of swim platform used by lake users is as depicted in the infographic – namely, one that is floating, and is accessible only be swimming out to the platform or by watercraft. With respect, this is a narrow and impractical view of how lake users, especially the elderly, infirm, disabled or those unable to access such a platform via swimming other through other means, enjoy access to the lake. Our sun deck platforms are accessible easily and safely from the dock system. The provide space for my wife and others, who are not strong swimmers, to access the lake via the ladder for swimming or simply lounging in the lake water, at sufficient depths for immersion, but enabling the user to touch the bottom and stand in the lake without swimming. We also use these as safe staging areas for watersports like waterskiing, and for fishing, as well as the simple pleasure of sitting out on the deck in the morning or evening to enjoy the lake.
For the reasons set out above, I strongly disagree with the assertion made by the presenter in the webinar that the only purpose for dock systems (or the terminal platform) is to access watercraft. This is simply inaccurate and ignores the myriad other enjoyable uses that can be made of lake access by lake users. So far as I can tell anecdotally, sitting on a sun deck in the lake having a coffee, or using one for fishing and watersports staging, is something that has been going on in Alberta lakes for a long time. I have seen no information or data to suggest that this use is harmful to anything or anyone, so long as the size and placement of these platforms is reasonable, attachments are proportional and not excessive (like gazebos), they do not impede lake enjoyment by neighbours or other lake users, and they are environmentally sound. Certainly, our use of attached deck platforms to our dock system conforms to these factors. I cannot see any rational justification to render these wonderful things noncompliant under the PDS.
  • Limitation of dock attachment to “one bench” is arbitrary, punitive and unnecessary
As outlined in #3 above, this with respect makes no sense to me. What is the difference between a bench and a chair? Or a small table attachment or swimming ladder? I fully understand and support the need to ensure that users are not constructing buildings or gazebos on platforms in the lake, but to arbitrarily state that the only permitted attachment to a dock or sun deck system is one bench seems, again, arbitrary, unsupportable and unnecessary.
  • No accommodation for sun deck attachments to dock systems for non-boating lake use
See comments in #3 above. These should be permitted, and the maximum terminal size allowable under the PDS should be expanded to take these into account.
  • PDS as drafted may render major investments by lakefront owners in dock systems worthless if existing dock systems are outside of the PDS and not granted a TFA or other exemption.
I recognize that dock systems that are non-compliant with the PDS can nevertheless be authorized by AEP through a TFA. However, there was certainly no guarantee given that this would be the case (after the grandfathering period expires), and there has been no information provided as to on what basis AEP will decide on the question of authorization. This is concerning, as my neighbors and I face the prospect of having our significant investments in dock sections, sun decks and boat lifts, as well as boats, rendered valueless if we are unable to place the dock equipment as we have done in the past. These investments are in the many tens of thousands of dollars for the docks and lifts alone. They were made in the belief that, used responsibly (as we do), they would last and be useful for many years. The prospect of these investments being rendered non-compliant and useless is extremely troubling.
  • No information has been provided with respect to what criteria and process is undertaken by AEP in determining whether a TFA will be granted for a non-compliant dock system.
See my comments above. Having clarity as to applicable criteria and a fair process for TFAs for non-compliant dock systems would be helpful. This information should have been provided in the information package.
  • PDS appears to be a “one size fits all” solution to a situation where density of lake use, property abutment to lakes and types of lakes are highly variable.
I can certainly see the need for a regulatory framework to allow AEP to manage lake access and dock systems in a general sense. And certainly, in cases where there is high density and conflict between dock owners and users, or where dock placement is resulting in unacceptable environmental damage to the lake ecosystem. However as mentioned prior, the PDS appears to be attempting to apply a set of rules based on factual circumstances that are highly variable – a one size fits all solution. I question whether this is the correct approach. As I have said above, my neighbors and I have placed our dock system in the lake for three and a half months every year for over 12 years, without conflict or complaint from neighbours or other lake users. Perhaps further clarity on what accommodations would be made and on what basis for non-compliant docks would be helpful.

The input provided above is made with the greatest respect to the people working in the AEP and their efforts to solve what I am sure are some worthy problems. It is intended to assist AEP in drafting a PDS that is accurately reflective of how lake users enjoy these public lands, and to hopefully provide some better information for the assumptions underlying certain metrics in the proposed PDS (like terminal platform size, boat lift use, and sun deck use).

Author: Summer Village of Itaska Beach


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