We cannot fault the City of Chestermere for taking a serious step to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 with its new beach use fee bylaw, but we hope the City takes the concerns of the local business community into account.
On July 28, Chestermere City council passed a bylaw that will charge non-residents a fee to visit one of the public beaches by Chestermere Lake. Council argued the fee is not meant to be punitive, but a cost-recovery method to help pay for new measures the City is taking to enforce the beaches’ new capacity limits.
In the weeks prior to the capacity limits being implemented, Chestermere’s beaches were often overcrowded, with hordes of daily visitors from both Chestermere and other municipalities. To enforce the new limits, the City installed fencing and is paying security personnel to monitor the beaches.
Many people from outside Chestermere will likely feel they are being treated unfairly by the new user-fee model, but they’re not the ones whose tax dollars would have to support the installation of fencing and wages for security guards, as well as maintenance of the parks.
But the Chestermere Chamber of Commerce made an excellent point when it argued the new bylaw will negatively affect local businesses. Chestermere Lake is a huge draw in the summertime, and the fees will likely dissuade thousands of visitors from Calgary, Strathmore and other jurisdictions from driving out to Chestermere to enjoy a lake day.
Many of those out-of-town visitors would have spent money at Chestermere’s businesses, whether it’s a restaurant, a Dairy Queen, a gas station or elsewhere. Without free access to the lake, there is less motivation for a day trip to Chestermere, and the local economy – which has already been through a lot during this pandemic – will suffer.
Moving forward, we hope the City does something to support these businesses. Measures could include a local-business marketing push sponsored by the municipality, fee-waiving for signage or advertising, or other such ideas.