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Massive steel dock concerns local residents and nearby municipalities

The dock is easily much bigger than an average-sized home, and it also dwarfs the existing docks of his immediate neighbours
Drone image of the mega dock at 206 Skyline Drive in Armour Township's Three Mile Lake. At more than 2,300 square feet, Bruce Klassen's dock has caused concerns for residents. The image displays the dock during March 2023 and highlights how a de-icer prevents the water near it from freezing over the winter. To the right is a much smaller dock of one of Klassen's neighbours.

Justine Leveque, the Mayor of Sundridge, wants to prevent waterfront property owners on Lake Bernard from building super-sized docks, which is what happened in nearby Armour Township at Three Mile Lake in January 2023.

Leveque said that in recent years Lake Bernard has seen more air and water craft activity, and at the most recent tri-council meeting of Sundridge, Strong and Joly, she said, “This is a great opportunity for us to get ahead of something happening on Lake Bernard.”

Both lakes have the same number of property owners at about 300.

The dock at 206 Skyline Drive at Three Mile Lake is owned by Bruce Klassen, who has been a pilot for more than 40 years. According to a drawing Klassen had submitted to the Township of Armour in January 2023, the steel dock is 2,342 square feet in size.

Klassen is on record as saying he needed a larger dock for safe mooring of a 30-foot Cessna float plane he was hoping to acquire. Klassen’s dock is easily much bigger than an average-sized home, and it also dwarfs the existing docks of his immediate neighbours.

Garry Sterritt lives on one side of the Klassen property and has a 300-square-foot dock, while his brother Kevin lives on the other side of Klassen and owns a 180-square-foot dock.

The process of how Klassen went about building the dock has been a contentious issue for the Township of Armour and the Three Mile Lake Community Club.

The club maintains Klassen used provisions under Transport Canada to bypass municipal and provincial laws that required he get a building permit for his dock, which he didn’t do.

The issue began in early January 2023 when Klassen sent a notice to the Sterritt brothers stating he would be replacing his old dock. Kevin Sterritt said that neither brother gave the notice much thought until they saw large I-beams being dragged across the ice on Three Mile Lake.

“This is not a typical dock”, Kevin Sterritt said. “No one has docks this size on the lake.”

A big concern for Sterritt was swimmers could get hurt if a plane the size of a Cessna landed on the lake and prepared to dock.

As awareness and concern grew about the dock, the Armour council held a public meeting February 28 of 2023 to let everyone voice their opinion.

At this meeting, Klassen told council and the waterfront property owners that Transport Canada encourages pilots to register their docks as water aerodromes.

Klassen said maps show the locations of these water aerodromes, which are useful to pilots who need to land on water in case of an emergency.

“That’s the only reason I did this,” Klassen told the public. “This dock will not be used for commercial purposes. It won’t be used for fuelling aircraft; (there’s) no bed and breakfast or restaurant.”

Klassen later added he had “no interest in the dock supporting a boathouse or accommodations”, and that it was intended for private use. But a dock with mixed uses is exactly what the other property owners believe Klassen has in mind.

One of them is Gary Austin, who is also a pilot, and said he wouldn’t need a water aerodrome to land in an emergency since any waterway becomes a landing point if there’s an emergency.

Austin told Klassen he questioned the design of the dock, and to him, it was “quite clear” it had a mixed-use purpose.

Members of council had the same concern, but Klassen said, “What you see is what you get.”

His position was reinforced with an email from his lawyer, Matt Hodgson, of the Barriston Law firm in Collingwood. “(The dock’s) design and construction were completed in accordance with the standards outlined by the current Ontario Building Code, which meet or exceed those of the National Building Code of Canada”, stated Hodgson’s email.

“Mr. Klassen would also like to confirm that he has absolutely no intention of building a boathouse on the dock.”

A statement from Duke Engineering of Huntsville repeats that Klassen’s dock design met or exceeded national building code standards and that the firm inspected the steel dock on February 16, 2023.

Despite this, Linda Newnham, the president of the Three Mile Lake Community Club, believes Klassen should have consulted with the lake association before going ahead with the dock’s construction.

Newnham says the association maintains Klassen didn’t consult beyond informing the Sterritt brothers because the project “would have received the level of concern that we’re now seeing.”

A drone image of the dock includes space for two boat slips and a slip for a plane.

Newnham said this image suggested the dock would have several activities going on like sunbathing and fishing.

She said it was the position of the association that once these activities occurred, then this was mixed-use, and the dock no longer fell under federal jurisdiction.

In siding with the property owners, the municipality took the position that if the dock sees any mixed-use, it will litigate the matter.

The property association also drafted a resolution for town council to consider, which council passed unanimously, and it asked Transport Canada to change its regulations that allow people to build massive docks without having to get municipal or provincial approvals beforehand.

In part, the resolution states cottage owners who build super-sized docks do so “under the guise of the Aeronautics Act”, and in doing so, these individuals bypass local and provincial requirements.

The property association and town council further claim that Transport Canada regulations allow water aerodromes to be built without environmental impact assessments from provincial or local authorities, and can be built without any safety assessment by local authorities.

Both parties want Transport Canada to also introduce measures where anyone proposing a water aerodrome faces mandatory consultations with provincial and municipal authorities before construction and must be transparent with the project.

When asked about the resolution Transport Canada’s senior communications advisor, Sau Sau Liu, said it would “be reviewed accordingly.”

Sau Sau Liu also said, “It is the aerodrome proponent’s responsibility to ensure that construction of the dock meets any applicable municipal and provincial requirements.”

As stated earlier, Klassen’s lawyer claimed the structure meets this threshold.

Because Klassen’s dock is made of steel, it’s not removed from the lake for the winter.

To protect it from ice, Klassen had a bubbler, also known as a de-icer unit, installed, which keeps the water near the dock from freezing because the unit keeps churning up the water.

The result is an open water zone encircling the dock.

The open water conditions concerned the Armour council because, during the winter, the lake draws many snowmobilers. As a result, in September of 2023, it introduced a bubbler by-law to regulate the use of any de-icing machine on the lake.

Among the regulations are the time of year the unit can be turned on, a danger sign with a pulsating amber light must be in place, and the de-icer must not impact the water of any adjoining neighbour by preventing it from freezing during the winter.

Klassen is not exempt from the bylaw despite his de-icing unit going into place before the bylaw was passed, and he has complied with its provisions.

Additionally, Klassen has kept his word and has not constructed anything on top of the dock.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.