PERTH - One sign is too much and 30 signs are not enough.
Debate raged in the Perth town council chambers last week as to how much liability the town was open to, if any, about placing signs at various points along the Tay River to alert swimmers to the threat of high E. coli levels in the water after heavy rains.
Grant Machan, the Town of Perth’s director of environmental services, told the committee-of-the-whole meeting on Monday, Feb. 5 that he would be meeting with the town’s insurance providers to go over the proposed wording of signs proposed for Stewart Park.
However, this did not sit well with Judy Bueller and Peggy Land, chair of the Perth and district chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women’s (CFUW) environmental committee and the Friends of the Tay, were on hand to express their concerns about the placing of the signs.
“Thirty is definitely not a good option,” said Bueller, since that might ruin the beautiful views and mess up the landscape.
“We are concerned that you are being offered two options,” said Land. “But neither addresses underlying issues like liability and discouraging tourists with signage.”
Bueller admitted that the allure of swimming in the idyllic-looking waters of the bucolic Stewart Park was hard to compete with.
“It’s like a page out of (the art of) Norman Rockwell, that kids can swim there,” said Bueller, who suggested that the signs might be of most benefit at the old pool, at Last Duel Park and behind the band shell near town hall.
Land noted that her group is the only one that is doing regular testing of the water.
“There should be sufficient warnings,” said Coun. Jim Graff. “Maybe we could find some common ground. I don’t want to see Stewart Park full of signs.”
While Mayor John Fenik said he understood the concerns about too many signs cluttering up the view, Graff’s proposed compromise to use removable sandwich boards had another insurmountable problem in his eyes.
“It’s staffing,” said Fenik. “On the weekend we don’t have the staff to take the signs out and in.
Coun. Judy Brown had another concern about the number of signs.
“I certainly appreciate your concerns (but) my concern is how extensive with signage we can be,” said Brown. “When people go into the water and swim they are, by them being in the water, that can add to E. coli… I would be happy with one since you cannot cover all possible hazards.”
Brown also urged a degree of personal responsibility when it comes to making the decision whether to swim or not.
“The public has a duty to be informed,” said Brown. “Parents should not let their kids swim in an area this is not posted.”
Coun. Ed McPherson wondered what good putting up any signs would have.
“I would rather see money spent on education,” said McPherson. “Putting up some signs isn’t going to educate the public. From an insurer’s point of view, as soon as we put signs up… we may be more liable.”
Fenik agreed that insurance companies tend to be risk averse.
“Our insurance company would say, ‘Put up 100 signs every three feet,’” said Fenik. “Our insurance companies are into risk management,” who added that the ideal sign wording from an insurance point of view would be “polluted river, don’t swim.”
Deputy Mayor John Gemmell agreed that some signs are of limited value, like those telling people not to jump into the water from the bridge.
“They’re going to keep going in,” said Gemmell.
“I think we need a little more thought on this,” said Fenik. “We need the information to take a look at that.”
Coun. Beth Peterkin said she did support placing a warning sign near the old outdoor pool because “it (still) looks like an outdoor pool,” and people may assume that it is safe to swim there.
Land was asked what wording she would like to see on the sign.
Her reply: “Warning, E. coli levels may reach an unhealthy level after a heavy rain.”
Machan was directed to contact the insurance company to check “what is our liability if we do not post signs,” said McPherson.