County wants to buy Birch Bay boat launch

Lacombe County is hoping to buy a popular Gull Lake boat launch that was closed by its owner because of liability concerns.

Lacombe County is hoping to buy a popular Gull Lake boat launch that was closed by its owner because of liability concerns.

The Birch Bay launching point on the northwest side of the lake was used for decades until a landowner exercised his riparian rights and acquired land up to the water line, including the launch. Concerned about liability, the new owner closed it two years ago.

Local residents lobbied the county to buy it back and reopen it.

County council heard on Thursday that most Birch Bay residents favour reopening the launch, although some wanted it to be restricted for local use only.

That viewpoint concerned Coun. Rod McDermand, who wondered whether those who expressed support for the county reopening the launch realized the intention was to upgrade the facility for all to use.

McDermand felt that the county should go back to the community with a concept plan showing what the county intends to do, which includes a proposal to buy additional land to provide parking at the site.

Even though the launch always has been a public access point, Coun. Brenda Knight also expressed reservations that those in favour of the county buying the launch did not understand all the implications.

Other councillors said the county needs to look at the needs of the entire county when it comes to the launch given the pressure for more lake access.

Coun. Dana Kreil said council had to consider who the launch was for. “It’s still for the public, for the better good of everyone.”

Coun. Keith Stephenson said it is a useful access point on that part of the lake and should be pursued.

“I think we should move forward with this. We don’t want to lose it.”

A motion to take a concept plan back to the community for input was defeated.

Also shot down was a motion to negotiate with the landowner to buy the launch and additional land for parking.

Instead, a compromise was passed to buy the launch, with an option to buy land for parking subject to public input. Council also directed administration to cost out upgrading the launch and parking to be considered in the 2013 budget and to draw on a lake access reserve fund for the money.

Birch Bay residents Cam and Chris Wiese told council that most residents want the launch reopened, hopefully as early as this ice fishing season.

Afterwards, Cam said the issue seems to be going in the right direction.

“I think we’re moving forward on it. Our community has been there for 50 years. The access has been there for 50 years, and now it’s closed.

“Why have a lake lot if you can’t get to the lake?”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com