County reverses course, will keep public boat launches closed during pandemic

(Gazette file photo)

JASON PARKS

STAFF WRITER

Despite a prior press release indicating the opposite, municipal boat launches in Prince Edward County will remain out of service at least in the interim while North America deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

County of Prince Edward Mayor Steve Ferguson told the Gazette Tuesday municipal boat launches would be closed going forward until such  time they could be reopened and recreational boating activities wouldn’t pose a threat to public health and safety.

The municipality drew raised eyebrows amongst some late last week when it announced launches that could be open during elevated water levels would be available for those looking to launch a boat provided users demonstrated proper social distancing, remained in their vehicle prior to launching and avoided congregating. 

The local announcement bucked the trend as municipalities such as Quinte West, Belleville and Greater Napanee have announced intentions to keep their launches closed. With those neighbouring closures came the idea that those not obeying directives for non-essential travel could travel to Prince Edward County to gain access to West or East Lake or the Bay of Quinte for example.

Mayor of Prince Edward County Steve Ferguson. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

With walleye season set to open in less than a month, even advice from Canada’s Medical Officer of Health and the Premier might not be enough to dissuade those from travelling from outside the region to try and land North America’s premier sport fish.

Ferguson said reacting to the constantly changing landscape amid an unprecedented pandemic required re-examination and reconsideration-often in the same 24 hour time period.

“Everything we consider is subject to change because everything that’s happening around us-globally, nationally, provincially and locally, is continuously shifting,” The Mayor told the Gazette.”We’re making decisions then revising them based on the latest information we have.”

According to the mayor, part of the reasoning in his decision to keep boat launches closed ties in with the extension of the province’s declaration of a state of emergency that was announced Tuesday.

But it’s also clear local residents are concerned about the potential of an influx of visitors from outside of the County.

“We’ve been hearing loud and clear about visitors to our community and I feel it’s vitally important that we minimize the number of visitors coming into Prince Edward County because we are effectively in a lock down, trying to keep people safe,” Ferguson explained.

Those who might flout public health directives from outside the Quinte area could view the open County of Prince Edward launches as a red carpet to come chase walleye to take their jet ski for a run up and down Picton or Weller’s Bay for example.

Especially with launch closures in Quinte West and Belleville.

“There’s is a probability we would see an incursion of additional traffic that could have an impact on the number of visitors coming here from elsewhere,” Ferguson added. “As people are being told to stay at home and self isolate, tourism is on hold and people coming from far away to our community- if it’s for recreation or sport- is inappropriate right now.”

In terms of how the community has reacted to the Emergency Management Act and the requests to practice social distancing, avoid non-essential travel and self-isolate, the Mayor said by-and-large, Prince Edward County is buying in.

To a point.

“I’d like to give it an A plus, but that’s disingenuous because we’ve seen issues flare up but as a whole, the response of our citizens and our businesses to this crisis has been absolutely fabulous,” Ferguson said.

As the case load for the Hastings and Prince Edward Public Health catchment area has stayed static over the past few days, the Mayor hopes this is an indication the overall message is hitting home and the new practices and protocols are going a long way to flatten the curve.

“I’ve been so impressed by the way in which our business community has reacted and how the majority of our residents have reacted to the new rules,” the Mayor added.

Who in our community could have imagined demarkations for social distancing on grocery store floors or online orders and curb side pick ups at places like Picton Homehardware, Canadian Tire or the County Farm Centre?

While it’s been generally accepted by residents this is the new normal for now, there have been outliers. Prince Edward OPP were busy last weekend answering calls concerning large gatherings and non-essential business continuing on as if there was no emergency order.

“It’s fair to say as inconvenient as this all is, most everybody remains respectful and mindful of everyone else and of our local businesses and front line workers,” Ferguson said. “I appreciate everyone’s efforts and, together we will stay strong and get through this as a community.”