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“Cottagers push for updated regulations on waterfront runways due to ‘Mega dock’ surge” – Breaking:


A large dock on a tranquil lake in Ontario has caused a stir among local residents who say federal regulations governing seaplane runways allow builders to ignore local ordinances.

Spanning over 200 square feet—large enough to house a volleyball court—the dock sits on the shore of Three Mile Lake behind 206 Skyline Dr. in the Township of Armor, Ont., just north of Muskoka.

The owner of the property says the dock is part of a private water aerodrome – an aquatic runway for seaplanes and other aircraft – that is under exclusive federal jurisdiction.

Local residents say the dock is a blatant attempt to circumvent local zoning laws by operating under federal protection.

City officials, in the minutes of a recent council meeting, just say the structure is a “mega dock”.

“It’s a steel structure and it’s gigantic,” said Linda Newnham, acting president of the Three Mile Lake Community Club, who is “outraged.”

“(It) was seen by the residents as an end goal of getting what (its owner) wanted.”

The cottage association alleges that the property owner exploited a “loophole” in Transport Canada regulations that allowed him to build the dock without cooperating with local authorities.

The cottage association and city council are now urging Transport Canada to crack down on similar proposals by ensuring that mixed-use ports can no longer be classified as federally regulated aerodromes.

Mayor is concerned about risk to lakes

Rod Ward, mayor of the Township of Armor, said the township’s chief building officer first heard about the dock last December.

The construction official visited the property, Ward said, and was told by owner Bruce Klassen that his dock did not have to follow the normal permitting process because it was registered with Transport Canada as a water aerodrome.

Rod Ward, mayor of the Township of Armor, says he was frustrated when he learned that Transport Canada could override the township’s jurisdiction. (Submitted)

In a letter to the council’s chief building inspector dated Jan. 10, 2023, Klassen’s attorney, Matt Hodgson, said the “design and dimensions” of the dock are subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction.

Hodgson argued that Canadian courts have repeatedly found that provincial laws and municipal ordinances do not apply to the location and establishment of airfields.

“The purpose of this letter is to avoid confrontation with city officials and to avoid any misunderstanding regarding the construction of the dock on our client’s land,” Hodgson wrote.

He said the construction of a dock did not have to meet local planning requirements, nor was a permit required under the council ordinance.

Aerial view of a large dock.
Aerial view of the ‘mega dock’ on Three Mile Lake. A bubbler prevents icing for a large radius around the dock. (Submitted)

According to Ward, Klassen began hauling construction materials across the lake in mid-January.

Ward, who also owns a cottage on Three Mile Lake, said he was frustrated when he learned Transport Canada could override the council’s authority.

The Township of Armor bylaws are designed to protect the region’s lakes, Ward said, and those lakes could be endangered if local rules aren’t followed.

“In this area, the lakes are our main resource. It’s why people come here. It drives the economy,” he said. “Protecting the lakes has always been critical.”

When is a dock just a dock?

To Ward and other slumlords, the design of the dock suggests more could be built in the future.

Ward said he is concerned that Klassen could build on top of the dock, creating a boathouse or other structure that could obscure neighbors’ view.

“It would make little sense to build such a foundation for something without building something on top of it,” he said.

In an application for approval submitted to the federal government’s Navigational Protection Program Registry, plans for the dock do not include a roof.

Through his lawyer in an email, Klassen said the plans do not include elements of a boathouse because he has “absolutely no intention” of building one.

However, the plans show multiple docking spaces adjacent to where a floating aircraft would dock.

Black and white plans for a dock.
Plans submitted to the Federal Government Navigational Protection Program Registry for Bruce Klassen’s dock at Three Mile Lake. (Bruce Classes)

Township of Armor council adopted a resolution at its meeting on May 2, calling on Transport Canada to require anyone wishing to register a hydroplane site to consult with provincial and municipal authorities before construction.

The resolution also called on Transport Canada to declare that “mixed-use” docks and structures, such as Klassen’s, are not permitted under the regulations.

The municipality has since passed an ordinance limiting the size of docks on the lake to about 45 square meters.

Klassen, a licensed pilot who currently works for Air Canada, declined to comment further.

In a letter to the Township of Armor council, Klassen said his dock was “specifically and on purpose” designed to be used as a private airfield.

The community’s opposition, he said in the letter, is based on “lack of understanding, incomplete information and misinformation” about the project.

Klassen said the airfield will not be used for commercial purposes or as fuel for aircraft, nor will it contain a laundry room or kitchen.

Recurring problem

Cottagers on Three Mile Lake aren’t the first in Ontario to accuse a neighbor of using federal laws to evade local authorities.

In heard a case the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario in 2013, got an applicant in the county municipality of Muskoka, Ont.

In contrast to Klassen, the cottager in that case did not have a pilot’s license or an airplane.

Gary Austin, who owns a cabin on Three Mile Lake and a small aviation company in London, Ontario, said he has landed helicopters and floating planes on the lake in the past.

Austin said people on the lake welcome float planes, but he personally sees no “practical use” for registering his dock as an aerodrome.

A seaplane sits at a dock on a lake.
Gary Austin, whose floatplane is shown here, has a cottage on Three Mile Lake and has landed floatplanes and helicopters on the lake in the past. He says he can’t imagine a “practical” reason to register his dock as an aerodrome. (Submitted by Gary Austin)

According to him, the sole purpose of this would be to legitimize the aerodrome under the aviation law, placing the dock under federal authority.

“Why should I be special just because I own a seaplane?” he said. “I think it would be prudent for Transport Canada to clarify those regulations… and make it very clear that if my dock is used for mixed use, it does not qualify under that federal jurisdiction.”

Unlike on land, where advocates are required to notify area residents before beginning construction, Transport Canada exempts hydroplanes from the consultation process.

In an email, a Transport Canada spokesperson said the department is considering a “variety of factors” when considering whether to develop or change regulations, adding that it will review the Township of Armor’s suggestions.

The spokesman also said the federal aviation regime does not exempt anyone from following local bylaws as long as those laws do not interfere with the operation of a particular aerodrome.

Transport Canada however places the responsibility on the courts to decide on a case-by-case basis whether a mixed-use dock is exempt from applicable statutes.

Newnham said legal costs could be passed on to small municipalities.

“What we’re saying to Transport Canada is ‘you caused the problem, but you’re leaving it to us – our time, our energy and our resources – to fix it,'” she said.

Local bylaws prevent ‘wild west’

MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka Scott Aitchison said he believes Transport Canada is “definitely” putting municipalities in an unfair position.

“Frankly, it completely goes against all the good work that councils are doing,” Aitchison said.

“This is one of those clear examples of another level of government going too far with – I think – regulation that is too simplistic.”

Scott Aitchison stands on a conference podium.
Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison says Transport Canada is ‘flying in the face’ of the good work councils are doing. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

During his tenure as mayor in Huntsville, Ontario, Aitchison said every year or two cottagers would try to flout local regulations by registering their docks as private airports.

Aitchison wants regulations to provide some level of municipal involvement in the approval process. Cottagers should not be able to “underfoot” local planning authorities, he said.

Terry Rees, executive director of the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations, said an aviation loophole could jeopardize effective land-use planning on lakes in the province.

“Those very specific rules (local bylaws) allow a community to make sure that it develops in an orderly way and that it’s not the wild west,” he said.

“We want to make sure loopholes aren’t used elsewhere.”

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