Conservation area campers may have to take down decks

Warwick Conservation Area
Warwick Conservation Area

Campers at the parks owned by the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority may have to get their hammers out.

The board of directors has approved a plan which would see about 150 of the 425 campers in the region replace any decks that don’t meet the building code.

Greg Wilcox, the manager of the conservation areas says over the years decks, sheds, porch roofs, and gazebo have been built at AW Campbell, Lorne C Henderson and Warwick Conservation ares – some with approval and some without. Wilcox says  “a significant number of structures existing on Authority property would have required building permits to construct.” But Lambton County officials say none have been issued.

The main problems are decks which are higher than 24 inches and any structure with a roof. They require posts to be rooted in the ground in cement. Wilcox says all seem to be built using deck blocks or patio stones.

Wilcox says allowing the structures that aren’t complying with the building code to remain would mean the conservation authority could be held liable if anything went wrong and people were injured.

Wilcox suggested the staff inspect each seasonal campsite before the campgrounds open for the season. Campers whose structures don’t comply with the building code will get a letter early in the season saying they’ll have a three year grace period to get their structures in compliance with the building code. In the meantime, they’ll have to sign a waiver to minimize the conservation authority’s legal risks. 

Dawn-Euphemia Mayor Al Broad wasn’t in favour of the plan since the conservation authority didn’t enforce the rules in the past, which Wilcox acknowledged.

“I don’t think it’s fair to the campers that they were building these structures and no one was saying anything. If we don’t have a bylaw in effect, or requirement for a permit or whatever, you know, shame on us really at that point that we seen or we should have that what was been built was oversized. That we didn’t stop and then not wait to 10,15, 20 years to come back upon them.”

Broad would “100 per cent” support putting the rules in place as of 2023.

The majority of the board of directors didn’t agree, approving a plan to bring all the seasonal sites into compliance with the building code by 2025.

Wilcox, in his report to the board, says all constructed roofs will have to be removed although manufactured steel gazebos attached to the deck will be allowed. 

Campers will have to fill out a request form if they want to build a structure and will need approval from both the superintendent and the senior manager before they build.

Wilcox acknowledges this won’t be a popular move.

“Seasonal camping accounts for approximately 70 per cent or $1,000,000 of revenues at AW Campbell, LC Henderson, and Warwick Conservation Areas,” he writes. 

“This decision will not be popular among affected seasonal campers – more than 150 sites,” he adds.

“Campers have spent money to build these structures and will be frustrated that they must modify or remove them. Some seasonal campers may choose not to continue camping with SCRCA.”