The development of a 100-site campground at Skill Lake is raising ire from a handful of permanent residents concerned about the future of their personal slice of paradise.
“I don’t want to get to a point where I have to tell my kids, ‘You can’t go swimming today because there’s a blue-green algae bloom,’” one of the area residents told Sudbury.com.
Another area resident said a stretch of the lake’s northern shore has been “cut up” into 50-foot lots, where land has been developed to the shore in some locations, an unsightly number of campers have been parked and numerous small buildings have been erected.
“I’ve seen backhoes virtually in the water, ripping up the shoreline,” he said. “When the buffers are gone, where’s the protection for the lake shore?”
A group of six permanent residents of Skill Lake met with Sudbury.com last week to voice their concerns and offer a boat tour of Camp Maple Mountain, an 85-acre campground with 100 camp lots approximately 40 kilometres west of Sudbury. The Skill Lake Stewardship group members expressed concern about the shoreline, wastewater, structures and the environmental impacts thereof.
They later requested that neither their names nor photos taken of them be used in Sudbury.com’s reporting, citing fear of retaliation.
The residents said they have been complaining to the province and City of Greater Sudbury about Camp Maple Mountain since at least 2014, but haven’t received any clear answers.
“If this was a lake closer to the city … we’d be getting the attention we deserve,” one of the residents contended.
“I would really like officials, whether it be the city (or a federal or provincial ministry) to come together with us to do something about this,” another resident said. “We deserve answers to our questions and concerns … before it’s too late.”
After placing phone calls and emails during the past several days, Sudbury.com has not fared much better in finding answers than area residents have.
Although Sudbury.com was able to verify Camp Maple Mountain is alleged to be in contravention of at least a couple rules, no governing jurisdiction will clarify what, exactly, the issue might be. It’s also unclear whether they will face any consequences.
Sudbury.com reached out to Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, whose ward includes Skill Lake, but have been unable to connect for an interview. Mayor Brian Bigger said the concerned residents are communicating directly with Conservation Sudbury, and although his office has been cc’d on emails, he relies on Conservation Sudbury’s expertise.
Conservation Sudbury is unable to comment due to their investigation into this matter being ongoing, general manager Carl Jorgensen told Sudbury.com by emailed correspondence.
After further pressing, he clarified that contraventions of O. Reg. 156/06 have been documented. This regulation of the Conservation Authorities Act covers interference with wetlands and alterations to shorelines and watercourses.
“We will be working with the facility and the involved tenants to achieve compliance and will be supporting other agencies in their efforts as required,” Jorgensen said.
Environment and Climate Change Canada told Sudbury.com our request for information regarding compliance would be better served by the province or City of Greater Sudbury.
Sudbury.com reached out to the provincial Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), who said the file falls under the jurisdiction of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (NDMNRF).
NDMNRF issued a written statement to confirm they conducted a compliance inspection in the summer of 2021 and no investigation came out of the inspection.
The NDMNRF spokesperson also said questions regarding environmental concerns should be directed to MECP, which had previously redirected Sudbury.com to the NDMNRF. The MECP has yet to respond to the correspondence cc’d to them.
Sudbury.com reached out to the City of Greater Sudbury’s communications department for a phone interview, and received a written response. The statement provided said, “As there are currently a number of investigations being undertaken by various regulatory authorities, we are not able to provide more detail at this time.”
Pressed further, the spokesperson connected Sudbury.com with city manager of growth and infrastructure Tony Cecutti, who said the city has been working with people at campgrounds throughout the municipality to ensure compliance with their bylaws.
“There have been some conversations with the folks at Skill Lake, and we don’t typically release details of the exact areas we’re seeking compliance on, but they’d be typical of any situation with a property that is similar and has to comply with the bylaw,” he said.
Camp Maple Mountain is not currently licenced by the city as a campground due to non-compliance, Cecutti said, clarifying they’ve been allowed to continue operating due to a pledge to become compliant.
“We don’t believe it’s going to be a big issue … to get them there,” he said, adding their non-compliance has to do with structures on site, per a city bylaw that came into effect in 2016 prohibiting most permanent structures from campgrounds.
Those erected prior to that are grandfathered in, while new structures must be temporary and easily removed.
“We won’t issue a licence for that facility until we’re sure they do comply for all the new structures built since 2016, but we believe the owners of that property are intending to comply with the bylaw so it shouldn’t be a concern in the fullness of time,” Cecutti said.
Whether they receive a licence will also depend on the campground’s compliance with the rules of other government jurisdictions. Cecutti offered no clearly defined timeline for how long the city would allow the campground to remain non-compliant until it is no longer allowed to operate.
Although Camp Maple Mountain operates under a co-operative ownership model in which each of its owners is responsible for their own campsite, Cecutti said generalized compliance throughout the campground would be required to receive a licence to operate.
According to the Camp Maple Mountain website, the camp was purchased by Geo Mortgage and Realty Inc. in April 2012 and is now being sold as co-ownership sites.
“The co-ownership concept is relatively new to Sudbury, but … the camp has transformed into a beautiful retreat for this special group of co-owners,” according to the website.
Wendy Bowe and her father, Lauri Kangas, are the leading figures behind Geo Mortgage and Realty Inc., and Bowe told Sudbury.com the city is well aware of what’s going on at the property.
“If there’s an issue, then they would be in touch with the individual owners,” she said.
As for whether she has any concerns about sites, she said, “I’d rather just leave it with the city and not make the judgment ourselves. … We’ve sold them their lots, and they have to apply by the zoning bylaw, etc, and if they don’t the city will be after them.”
Although area residents said they have been complaining about Camp Maple Mountain since 2014, Jorgensen said Conservation Sudbury first became involved in the matter in 2021. An NDMNRF spokesperson said they are not aware of any issues from 2014. Cecutti said that while no matters have been ongoing with the city since 2014, past matters might have since been resolved or dismissed, with others raised since that time.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.