PERTH - A “no swimming” sign is to be erected at the old swimming hole on Mill Street, having met the criteria set out by the town’s insurance company and the health unit.
The sign’s wording will read: “This area is not a recognized swimming area. Users should be aware of potential health risks such as E. coli and sharp objects in the water. Enter at your own risk.”
But, following a delegation from Peggy Land of the Perth and district chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women, and Judy Buehler, of the Friends of the Tay, it was agreed that the wording would be amended to include reference to elevated E. coli levels after heavy rains.
However, Land felt that there should be more signs posted in Stewart Park, across the road, and even in Last Duel Park, to warn of the elevated E. coli danger.
“If you only put up one sign in a place where no one is going to see it… then all of those kids and parents who want to have fun will not know that that is an especially dangerous place to be after a heavy rain,” said Land during the Perth committee-of-the-whole meeting on Tuesday, March 5. However, she did add that “we are pleased that the recommended signage is closer to what we had hoped (for).”
Land noted that she understood that the insurer’s main concern was for the “pool-like area,” since it would seem to be the place most logically likely to attract swimmers.
“We don’t want to discourage kids from swimming there (in Stewart Park) if it is safe,” said Land. “We feel you have a moral obligation to let people know what we know. Surely you would tell your families not to go in that river right after a heavy rain… why put other children at risk?”
Buehler agreed with Land’s assessment, pointing out that, since the 1990s, “Perth’s branding is basically Stewart Park and the river,” she said.
“I would hate to see something untoward happen, if someone got sick from that river,” said Buehler.
Coun. Jim Graff said he too wanted to see catch basins in two spots along the river, to catch any bad runoff from the 40 culverts along the river route, as well as any manure or field runoff from Tay Valley Township and beyond.
“I hope we can rehabilitate the Tay,” Graff said. While the idea of placing sandwich boards up warning of elevated E-coli levels after a heavy rain had been dismissed as unworkable – since town staff would not be available to put them out and taken them in on most weekends – he suggested that, at the very least, they could be put out on the Stewart Park Festival weekend, when the park sees its highest number of visitors.
“There is a negative attitude towards putting permanent signs in,” said Graff.
However, chair Coun. Judy Brown noted that announcements are made from the festival stage that swimming is not allowed in the river.
“I think that that is a much better solution,” said Brown.
Deputy Mayor John Gemmell also pointed out that “when you put a sign up, how do you enforce it? If those kids don’t get out (after they are told to get out), how do you pull them out?”
But Land remained adamant in her position.
“People want to be able to make informed decisions,” said Land. “People often do not connect the dots. They may not connect that (they got sick) because they were in the river three days before.”
Mayor John Fenik said that the joint Friends of the Tay/CFUW request was “extremely reasonable,” but he reiterated that he felt that staff was recommending the best decision.
“The river that runs through that park has never been designated as a swimming area or a beach,” said Fenik. “I am not a heartless mayor. This is not a heartless council. (But) this is not a recognized swimming area.”
As for the old swimming hole though, “it looks like a swimming area,” which is why the sign will be posted there. If council was to start posting similar signs beyond the swimming hole, “we might as well post a sign every 10 feet from Last Duel Park to Stewart Park,” along the river banks.
Fenik admitted that “this will not satisfy the CFUW group but I respect the hard work that they do. (But) I am sure this summer we will see people swimming in the river.”
“We have to give the public some credit out there,” said Coun. Jim Boldt. “They are not stupid people.”