Affordable access to lake remains an ongoing issue

Affordable access to the lake continues to be an issue for residents and visitors to the area.

Affordable access to the lake continues to be an issue for residents and visitors to the area following the fallout of a deal between the Town of Sylvan and Sylvan Lake Harbour Ltd.

The $1.189 million deal would have seen the Town of Sylvan Lake purchase the Sylvan Lake Marina.

The deal was to include a land purchase of the boat launch and ten boat slips currently owned by Sylvan Lake Harbour Ltd. and located at Sylvan Lake Marina, 5220 Lakeshore Drive with a two year lease arrangement for approximately 1’500 square feet of commercial space in the building immediately adjacent to the boat launch.

Betty Osmond, Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Sylvan Lake stated in a report to Council that the continued operation of a public boat launch was a development condition of the Watersedge Marina Development in 2013. After the project was completed there was considerable public concern about the rates charged for launching of boats. As this is a public business the Town has no control over the operation of the facility including hours of operation and fees.

“Public use of the facility, particularly by residents, declined substantially and there was an identified need for a more affordable option and better hours of service,” said Osmond in her report. “Council saw this issue as another limitation to public lake access which needed to be addressed.”

She explained that from 2011 to 2015 the Town of Sylvan Lake participated in the Sylvan Lake Access Steering Committee, an inter-municipal initiative led by Lacombe County to determine options for another public boat launch site on Sylvan Lake. While the Town preferred a site within the municipal boundary of Sylvan Lake no options were available at the time. The Committee conducted a study of potential sites funded through a Government of Alberta Regional Collaboration Grant. Ultimately potential sites were ruled out because of environmental restrictions and issues related to bank height and water depth. The Sylvan Lake Access Steering Committee disbanded January 18, 2016 and the Sylvan Lake Management Committee was tasked with any follow-up on the Sylvan Lake Access Strategy and Action Plan.

In recent months Town Administration has been actively exploring options for improving boat launch access to the lake. Public interest in the issue became more apparent with the purchase of the former water slide property as many residents saw that parcel as an opportunity for development of a boat launch area. While this may be a possibility, an environmental study and a substantial investment in the infrastructure would be required. Issues of water depth and fluctuating lake levels would also need to be evaluated. A new boat launch would also limit other public recreation uses on the newly acquired site.

When the option to purchase the existing boat launch was identified Administration started to explore that possibility and commenced negotiations to determine if this was a cost effective option.

The key factors in the negotiated agreement with Sylvan Lake Harbour Ltd. included a purchase price for the Purchased Assets shall be $1,189,180.

Osmond stated the overall price for the boat launch and equipment was considered fair and reasonable and substantially less than the cost of building a new boat launch on the old water slide property, assuming any further studies determined the site was suitable. The inclusion of ten boat slips in the purchase was necessary to provide spaces for launched boats while the vehicle and trailer was moved to a parking spot. The slips would have also provided day mooring options and related revenue for boaters who want to come ashore and access local businesses and amenities. The boat slips are part of a condominium and the Town would have been required to pay monthly condominium payments of $35.71 per unit. This amount could change by decision of the Condominium Corporation of which the Town will be a member.

As part of the agreement Town staff had negotiated a two year lease of 1’500 square feet of commercial space in the building immediately adjacent to the site. Administration recommended the Town seek a third party operator for the boat launch while maintaining control over service hours and fees. The building space will assist in making the boat launch more viable as a commercial operation.

“We had an opportunity to look at the boat launch in town and a deal was negotiated. I want to be clear there were two conditions on this deal,” said Osmond. “One was that it would require Council’s approval in a public forum and the other was a 30 day due diligence period, which is essentially to review all documents related to the transaction and find out if they were to our satisfaction and workable with what our proposed use was.”

The prospective deal was made public on Friday, February 24 at which time it was advised the Town seek legal advice prior to moving ahead with the deal. Osmond stated the Town was made aware of ‘serious concerns’ about the viability of the deal particularly with regard to the ten boat slips included in the deal.

“They’re part of a dockominium arrangement in that restrictions on them would in fact prohibit the use of them for the intended purpose of the Town which is a place for boats to be while their owners park their vehicles and trailers while also allowing day mooring,” said Osmond. “I talked to our legal firm today and had them specifically look at that issue. Based on their review and advice, I have to say that I don’t believe this is a viable deal.”

jenna.swan@sylvanlakenews.com