500 people pack the Sauble Beach Community Centre to hear details of a proposed land claim settlement. (Photo by Jordan MacKinnon)

Proposed Sauble Beach Land Claim Deal Revealed

A proposal is in place that would see a portion of Sauble Beach become part of Saugeen First Nation territory.

South Bruce Peninsula council has revealed the offer to resolve the 30-year old land claim involving the beach, in which First Nations claim the northeastern boundary of an 1854 treaty is actually further north than the present day boundary, at Main St. in Sauble Beach.

The Municipal solicitor for South Bruce Peninsula, Greg Stewart, says the offer would transfer a two kilometre stretch of beach to Saugeen First Nation, from Main St. north to 6th St., running west-to-east from the water’s edge to Lakeshore Boulevard. ¬†Stewart says the offer would also establish a joint management board to oversee the maintenance and operation of the beach, which would be comprised evenly of representatives from Saugeen First Nation and South Bruce Peninsula.

Even though Saugeen First Nation currently charges a fee for beach-goers to access southern Sauble Beach, Stewart says the land involved in the settlement would remain open to public access and would not be subject to a fee unless both councils agree.

Stewart says the federal and provincial governments would make a one-time payment of $5 million to South Bruce Peninsula to offset their portion of the beach costs, but cautions neither level of senior government has formally agreed to that yet.

Stewart says the mediated settlement would provide some level of municipal input over the beach, pointing out a long court battle would result in an all-or-nothing verdict, meaning South Bruce Peninsula would retain ownership, or Saugeen First Nation would be awarded ownership and full control of the beach.

According to an information sheet provided by South Bruce Peninsula staff, it could cost $7 million to taxpayers to take the land claim to trial, which represents a one-time charge of up to $1,000 on each tax bill.

Mayor John Close says he’s going to wait-and-see before he decides if he’s willing to accept the settlement, pointing out it’s up to the people to decide what they want to do and he wants to see public feedback before making up his mind.

Residents of South Bruce Peninsula have until August 21 to submit their comments in writing to council, though Close says he does not imagine council will be making a final decision on the proposal until after October’s municipal election.