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Pandemic spawns boating boom that evident on Erie’s shores

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Boating is among the select activities in Ontario that has benefitted during the COVID-19 summer of 2020.

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“It’s out of the park,” said Angie Woodward, co-owner of Marina Shores in Long Point. “It’s not comparable to any year ever. And that’s industry-wide, Ontario-wide.

“A year like this you might get once in a lifetime. We’ve been here since 1973 and we’ve never seen a year like this.”

Boating is an outdoor activity that naturally lends itself to social distancing. Many have invested in boating as a result, Woodward said.

As well — in contrast to 2019 — marina operators on Lake Erie are benefitting from moderating water levels.

Record-high water last year played havoc with marine industries.

Many marinas along the north shore flooded during windstorms. Fixed docks in many places were unusable because they were under water. Marinas in Port Dover and Turkey Point reported major infrastructure damage due to severe wave action.

“Lake Erie is still super high, but it’s down significantly from last year and dropping,” Woodward said. “The lake is down a foot from where it was a year ago.”

In a news release, the Grand River Conservation Authority said Lake Erie remains 67 centimetres above its historic average. The Ministry of Natural Resources says Lake Erie dropped seven centimetres through the month of July.

Boating Ontario – the association representing marinas and other marine businesses – confirms that strong industry conditions locally are general across the province.

“Marinas are busy,” says CEO Rick Layzell. “They’re having a brisk summer.”

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High water on the Great Lakes was the focus of a Boating Ontario conference in Port Dover in February. Hosted by Layzell, he told industry representatives that he was trying to get the attention of the International Joint Commission (IJC) on their behalf.

IJC is a bilateral commission representing Canadian provinces and American states that share the Great Lakes. After the conference in Port Dover, IJC invited Boating Ontario to sit in on its deliberations regarding Plan 2014 – IJC’s management strategy for water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Due to generally high water throughout the Great Lakes, jurisdictions such as New York State have sued the IJC for its management of Lake Ontario because of severe shoreline erosion and property damage. New York and other jurisdictions want the IJC to speed the outflow of water from the Great Lakes basin to the Atlantic Ocean.

Layzell says discussions to this point have been productive.

“We’re at the table and we’re talking about Lake Ontario,” he said. “But 85 per cent of the water in Lake Ontario comes from Lake Erie, so why are we not talking about Lake Erie, I’ve told them. I’m putting my foot down pretty good on that.”

Layzell said this hot, dry summer has helped reduce lake levels across the board. Lakeshore property owners rely on a certain amount of evaporation to keep levels in the Great Lakes within historic averages.

GRCA warns that continued high water in Lake Erie remains a threat for shoreline erosion, flooding, beach submersion and crawl space and septic system inundation.

“This risk is expected to remain in place through the fall,” the GRCA says in a news release. “The higher-than-normal lake level coupled with wave action can impact and cause failure of shoreline erosion works.”

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