A can of worms was opened in Skead earlier this month when city staff installed large boulders at the end of Poupore Road West.
The cul-de-sac at the end of the road had been used for the past several decades as access to Lake Wanapitei, where people launched boats and drove ice-fishing shacks onto the lake.
A few days after the boulders were installed, and sparked by concern among users about lake access, Mayor Brian Bigger ordered staff to remove some of the boulders to accommodate ice fishers.
Between area residents and anglers, both of these steps have fired up Sudburians.
One of these factions was “really nasty” on social media, said Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo, who represents the area on city council.
“I think regardless of the issue, you have to be respectful no matter what side you’re coming from on any issue,” he said. “Harassing people on social media is not acceptable, threatening people on social media is not acceptable and it’s never a way to find a common-ground solution to anything moving forward.”
Sudbury.com met with a group of five area residents at one of their homes on Poupore Road West earlier this week in a masked and socially distanced setting. These residents are among those who led the initial petition to have the boulders installed, two of whom requested their names not be used due to the unfriendly social environment this contentious issue has brought to the small community. The group as a whole declined to be photographed.
Among these five residents was Rose Rice, who has lived in the area for 70 years and said residents’ concerns about the unofficial boat launch have been both long-standing and getting worse.
“This is not a new problem, honey, this has been ongoing,” she said, adding that her first attempt to have the unofficial boat launch closed was in a letter to the then-Town of Nickel Centre in 1981.
In their petition presented by Jakubo during the May 11 city council meeting, residents noted the unofficial boat launch causes their street to become congested during peak times, “often impeding sight lines, blocking driveways and restricting safe traffic flow for vehicles.”
Although there are “no parking” signs along the road, they wrote that they were routinely ignored and that boat launch users were “often disrespectful of area residents.”
These complaints echo those Rice reported to Nickel Centre council in 1994, when she wrote: “At this moment, I cannot get out of or can anyone get into my driveway for the cars, trucks and boat trailers park haphazardly in the area as far up as Dolores Street.”
When boats are lined up down Poupore Road West, resident Sandra Foley told Sudbury.com that they’ll block driveways for long periods of time along the narrow street, trapping residents.
It’s problematic during the winters as well, when ice fishers park on the cul-de-sac and impede the ability of snowplows and school buses to turn around.
On some occasions, the city simply can’t clear the road.
“If there’s a huge snowstorm, we can’t get out,” Foley said, adding that this might also affect emergency vehicles.
The residents who met with Sudbury.com also expressed safety concerns about people who enjoy swimming in the area as well as various nuisance issues, including noise early in the mornings and late at night. Some users have even been spotted urinating and defecating in the area as a result of there being no public washroom facility.
With these concerns brought forward, city staff made the decision to install the boulders. Since the area was never officially designated as a boat launch and the cost of installing boulders was within their spending limit before hitting a threshold that would have required city council approval, they had the authority to do so, Jakubo said.
They were right to do it, he said, affirming, “I’m supportive of the staff decision.”
“If I can’t get down that street in my truck, then an ambulance can’t get down to the end of that street, a fire truck can’t get down … so the safety of the residents is what really did it for me.”
Meanwhile, Bigger said the negative response to the boulders’ installation told him that more voices needed to be heard and factored into the city’s decision than those of area residents.
A few days after they were installed and aware a petition was coming forward calling for their removal, Bigger ordered city staff to remove a few of them to make way for ice-fishing traffic.
With lake access a priority for many residents throughout the municipality, he said the decision’s impact was “far beyond the petition that perhaps the councillor and staff believed they were dealing with in the summer.”
The leading proponent of this pushback has been Allison Lacey-Hinds, whose online petition urging for the reinstatement of lake access received 220 signatures within its first 12 hours.
In conversation with Sudbury.com, she clarified that she understands area residents’ opposition, supports their concern about parking and contends that outliers among the angler community “are just being selfish” in their disrespect for area residents.
The petition pushes for the full reinstatement of access at the end of Poupore Road West, the enforcement of the “no parking” signs and signs pointing people to park a 10-minute walk away at the Skead Community Centre and a nearby church.
Despite this, Lacey-Hinds said they’re not married to the Poupore Road West access and that they’re open to an alternative solution. The key hitch is that they’d want it established before anything closes.
“If you take it away you have to provide an alternative,” she said. “We need public access to that lake that’s been there forever.”
The summer is less of an issue because there are private boat launches at the nearby Tony’s Marina as well as at Rocky’s Restaurant and Marina, which is a significant drive away at the far north side of the lake.
In the winter, Tony’s Marina closed and there is no nearby alternative.
Further, she said the southern Skead Bay area the Poupore Road West access is situated in is a prime location for ice fishing huts because it freezes much earlier than the balance of the deep lake, so if the city ends up going with an alternative access point it should be located in that general area.
Area residents have a couple of ideas for alternative locations, including a location on East Bay Road they said might be viable, but these sites are not yet ready for anglers.
“That’s the immediate concern here,” Bigger said, adding that this is why he pushed for the boulders’ removal now, before the ice-fishing season starts.
The mayor plans on pushing for a community consultation process early in the new year to come up with a solution for everyone affected.
“We are accountable for ensuring there’s open and thoughtful and timely government decision making,” he said. “My intention is to say we’re listening. … We’ll adequately hear from both sides.”
Jakubo said that while he’s concerned about public consultation inflaming hatred toward those on Poupore Road West who oppose their street being used as access to Lake Wanapitei, he’s game to see a public consultation process find an alternative for anglers.
“I think the end goal of any consultation process that unfolds has to be an alternate location,” he said. “It’s got to be a location that does not put any residents at risk in their own house.”
It’s refreshing to see that the city plans on consulting with area residents and lake users who know firsthand the nuances of the issues at play, Lacey-Hinds said, referring to the boulders’ placement as a “knee-jerk reaction” that is not going unchecked as a result of a very passionate community of lake users.
“You can’t just be sneaky and change things,” she said, adding that she’s optimistic that the public consultation process will result in more meaningful action.
“When a community comes together you get the best results.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.