With snowbirds potentially unable to travel to winter homes and cottagers looking to remain in Kawartha Lakes rather than return to their primary urban residences, CAO Ron Taylor and other senior city staff are trying to plan pro-actively for what could be a very unpredictable winter season.
“We are planning ahead to be proactive,” Taylor said, “in the event that seasonal residents who usually head down south decide to stay in Kawartha Lakes.”
“With the U.S. border closed to vehicle traffic presently, there are many residents that we have heard from anecdotally that are planning to stay home,” Taylor said.
“There is also the possibility that seasonal residents will plan to spend additional time at their waterfront/cottage property this winter,” Taylor added, “and we know from Statistics Canada that we are in the range of 20,000-25,000 residents who do not live in Kawartha Lakes during the four seasons.”
With the potential for a 25 per cent population increase over the winter months, Taylor was asked what city services will be most directly impacted by cottagers and snowbirds staying.
“We’re reviewing a variety of municipal services that may need adjustment,” Taylor began, “among them: recreational services may be needed that include alternate uses for arenas that are not currently using ice, library services may see increased use, sidewalk clearing and snow removal on seasonal roads, winter hours at landfills, and volume of calls to emergency services like fire, paramedic and police.”
With COVID-19 still a reality, Taylor also suggested that there may also be additional strain on provincial services such as hospitals, health care practitioners and pandemic assessment centres.
With many seasonal residents living on private or unassumed roads of varying qualities and levels of maintenance, city staff is already considering the impact on both ambulances and fire trucks needing to traverse those roads in the event of an emergency.
“Fire Services respond to emergencies on private and unassumed roads,” Kawartha Lakes Fire Chief Mark Pankhurst said, “however it may take time to reach the address due to road conditions.”
“In the worst case scenarios,” the chief continued, “firefighters will use all-terrain vehicles or walk into the location.”
Paramedics Chief Andrew Rafton concurred with what Pankhurst was suggesting.
“The paramedic service responds to all emergencies whether they are on private or public roads. Our response time varies with road conditions.”
“In the past, especially in the winter months when private roads may not be as well maintained as public roads, we have depended on the fire service to access residences either via snowmobile or ATV,” Rafton said.
One of the quandaries some of the newly minted winter residents will be facing, touched on by both the fire and paramedic’s chief, will be finding someone to clear their lanes and access roads this winter.
The Advocate contacted two local property maintenance firms who asked for anonymity and shared similar stories regarding the availability of private plowing this winter.
“We are unable to take any more clients as we were almost fully booked just with our clientele from last winter,” the first firm shared.
The second firm was sympathetic towards the plight of people looking for snow removal but echoed that message.
“There will not be enough trucks or drivers available across the city this winter. It is really acute in the north where many of these people have never experienced a Norland winter.”
“We are telling people who have an SUV or pick-up that if this decision to stay is going to be the new normal that they look at getting a blade themselves and taking care of their own laneways. Too many are thinking they can do their winter maintenance with a hardware store bought snow blower.”
The city is beginning to calculate what the additional costs might be to various departments based on thousands of additional people staying the winter.
“We are working through these considerations,” Taylor said, “and will bring an update to council in the future. It is difficult to forecast the financial implications at this point as much of the winter control costs will depend on the weather condition and other decisions that will need to be made as the pandemic plays out.”
“We have funding from the province,” Taylor added, “for COVID-19 related expenses and should service enhancements such as the ones listed above be implemented, this funding would be applicable.”