Rondeau cottagers remain hopeful for long-term lease

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Rondeau cottagers remain hopeful a deal can be reached after the Environment Ministry indicated it’s still considering a long-term lease extension for cottages in the provincial park.

In a letter recently received by Chatham-Kent council, Rod Phillips, the minister of the environment, conservation and parks, said the government recognizes the importance of Rondeau Provincial Park to Ontario’s protected areas, as well as the contributions of the cottage lots to the community.

“Accordingly, our government is taking steps that may enable cottagers in Rondeau Provincial Park to remain until 2038, subject to the completion and outcomes of required processes,” the letter stated.

The minister added the matter of extending the terms of the leases is complex and requires an approach that “balances the interests of the public, Indigenous communities and cottagers, while being fiscally responsible and maintaining strong protection for the natural and cultural values within the park.”

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The current cottage lease – the result of a two-year extension – expires on Dec. 31 of this year.

Although he said the letter was a standard response, Dr. David Colby, president of the Rondeau Cottagers Association, said Tuesday he’s “hopeful that an acceptable long-term solution can be crafted.”

He said the aim for the cottagers isn’t another short-term lease, noting a longer lease, with right of renewal and rent controls, is ideal. He added that a solution would also “stabilize tax revenues to Chatham-Kent” from the cottages.

It’s been a long road for the Rondeau cottagers on the issue, as they’ve previously faced looming uncertainty amid ongoing dialogue and consultant studies. Cottage leaseholders in Algonquin Provincial Park have faced similar issues.

There has also been opposition over the years from those who don’t believe the approximately 300 cottages have a place in Rondeau park, as well as friction with park administration at times.

However, cottagers maintain they are stewards of the land while also contributing to the area’s economy and heritage.

However, in 2016 a Chatham-Kent heritage bylaw designed to protect cottages in Rondeau was repealed by an order from the Ontario Municipal Board.

Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff said Wednesday he believes an arrangement is possible to benefit the cottagers as well as protect the environment.

“I’m hopeful a true long-term solution can be met,” he said, adding that would ensure stability for everyone involved.

“There are a lot of heritage buildings in there.”

Rondeau Provincial Park – the second oldest in Ontario – is noted for its Carolinian forest, wetlands and species at risk. More than 160,000 people annually visit the park, which is nestled on a sand spit that extends into Lake Erie

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