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Aug. 11, 2020 | Tuesday
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COVID-19: NOTL cracks down on tourists
The Town of NOTL is erecting electronic signs to deter visitors during the pandemic. The first one was set up Thursday morning at John Street and Queen's Parade. (Supplied)

'Stay away' is the key message. And bylaw officers will now ticket those violating provincial orders

 

Stay away.

That’s the succinct message Niagara-on-the-Lake wants tourists to hear as the town tries to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s an unusual but necessary step for a town that heavily relies on tourism.

And to make sure the message gets through, the town is promising to start issuing fines of $750 or more to anyone defying the provincial orders against public gatherings.

This past Saturday alone, on 58 occasions, the town’s two bylaw officers on duty had to urge groups of people to “move along,” community and development services director Craig Larmour told council at a special virtual meeting Monday night.

Part of the problem is the Niagara Parks Commission has not closed its parking lots, so visitors, primarily from St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Hamilton and Toronto are stopping along the Niagara Parkway at facilities operated by the commission.

Many of the visitors are then travelling into Old Town and stopping at grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores, primarily to use their washroom facilities, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said.

This is causing “great stress” on those operators, she said.

With the town declaring a state of emergency, no restaurants or stores are open. And when nature calls, people are urinating “in bushes, construction site portable toilets and behind buildings,” the mayor said.

The town has asked Niagara Parks to close its parking lots, but so far has had no luck. Interim chief administrator Sheldon Randall said he hopes to hear back from the commission by late this week.

The municipality is also bringing in two more bylaw enforcement officers on contract to help deal with the problems. The busiest times for enforcement are Thursday through Sunday.

With no provincial ban on travel and people tired of being stuck at home, there’s nothing to stop them from jumping in their cars and heading to NOTL, Randall said. “We don’t want them to, but they’re allowed to do that.”

He noted that sometimes when bylaw officers speak to visitors and tell them they’re violating the rules, the response is, “They don’t care.”

In an aggressive effort to try to discourage tourists, the town will be setting up three large digital signs with messages warning that the town is closed, Randall told councillors.

The signs likely will be placed along the Niagara Parkway near John Street, at the roundabout in Virgil and on Lakeshore Road near East and West Line, he said.

The first sign was set up on Thursday morning. Randall hopes to have all the signs operating before this weekend.

The town wants visitors to know NOTL is “closed for business right now. We don’t want your business right now. We want you to come back when we can accommodate you,” Randall told council.

Up till now benches in municipal parks were not off-limits but the town just determined that benches are included in the provincial orders and will now be adding yellow caution tape to prohibit their use, Randall told The Lake Report.

At Monday’s meeting, councillors were also told that no full-time town staff have been laid-off yet, though many contract positions have been cut.

Full-timers have been redeployed among several departments to ensure the town is able to continue to provide all the essential services the municipality requires, Randall said. Everyone who is still on the payroll is needed right now, he said, though there could be layoffs if that changes.

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