A few hundred people turned out to a rally at Big Tree Park in St. Laurent Saturday to demand the municipality drop new fees to access the beach.
“It doesn’t only affect the people that live here — there are lots of elders that live out here and this is where their grandkids come, their kids,” says Ainslie Martin, who helped organize Saturday’s demonstration after being caught off guard by the changes last month.
“Everybody goes to the beach and they have their family time out in St. Laurent.”
The RM of St. Laurent passed a bylaw in June that set down new rules for Big Tree Park, a municipality-owned park that includes Sandpiper Beach along the southeastern shore of Lake Manitoba.
Under the changes, which took effect Canada Day, anyone who can’t provide proof of residence in the RM will be charged $10 a day per vehicle, including the driver, and $5 for additional passengers.
Year-round passes are also available for $100 that include entry for two adults and three youth.
Entry is free for kids six and under.
“If you think about the families that might not have the ability to go to the beaches that are farther away, just enough money for gas and snacks, you go and spend the day at the beach,” Martin says.
“And that’s now being taken away from the lower-income families that might not have the means to go to the bigger beaches that are farther away. It’s kind of sad.”
Global News’ requests for comment from the reeve of the RM of St. Laurent were unanswered Saturday.
However, the community’s website says the changes came since the beaches are now considered a tourist destination.
“Due to the influx and large increase of visitors and tourists, costs of maintaining, enhancing, repairing, and monitoring the use of our infrastructure have increased exponentially,” a statement reads in part.
“These costs should not be born by our residents and property owners, hence the implementation of a fee charged to visitors. Gros Arbre (Big Tree) Park and Sandpiper Beach is the ideal location for a pilot project as it is owned by the R.M. of St. Laurent.”
It goes on to say the revenue will go back into improving the park, such as with shaded seating areas, more picnic tables, a playground, and upgraded change-rooms and toilet facilities.
“These are fabulous ideas. Was this the way to go about it, without consultation and speaking with people? I don’t think so,” says Fátima Carreiro, president of the Portuguese Association of Manitoba, which owns a campground bordering the beach.
“Given the amount of people that have come out here, I would say absolutely not.”
Carreiro says the changes are particularly upsetting since there has been mutual support between her organization and the RM for over 26 years, and the adjustments came down without any consultation.
“We really feel everybody should have access to this beach, it goes beyond even the fact that we pay residential taxes to this community, it’s a beach for everybody,” Carreiro says.
“It’s Lake Manitoba, and it’s not owned just because you need to bypass a gate to get into Lake Manitoba.”
Carreiro adds they’ve met with reeve Cheryl Smith to voice their concerns, and have since sent a letter to Minister of Municipal Relations Derek Johnson.
The statement posted to the community’s website says some tweaks have been made to the original bylaw.
While the park was to be off-limits before 11 a.m. and a half-hour after sunset, it now says the park entrance “at the red building” will be open 24/7, and attendants will be collecting parking and entry fees between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
With files from Shane Gibson.
St. Laurent beach goers frustrated by beach fees
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