Proposed water park divides Augusta Township

A water park complex proposed for a patch of land just west of Prescott, Ont., is dividing the community between those who want the jobs the project promises and those who fear it will drain the town's water and cause traffic headaches.

Aquaworld plan includes 140-unit hotel, convention centre, spa, restaurants

A drawing of the water park proposed by Aquaworld for a parcel of land in Augusta Township, just west of Prescott, Ont. (Aqua World website )

A water park complex proposed for a patch of land just west of Prescott, Ont., is dividing the community between those who want the jobs the project promises and those who fear it will drain the town's water supply and cause traffic headaches for residents.

Aquaworld Resort and Convention Centre wants to build the indoor-outdoor water park, plus a 140-unit hotel and convention centre. The proposal also includes a mini-golf course, an activity zone for kids, a bingo hall and five restaurants.

The 80-hectare site, zoned as farmland, needs rezoning from Augusta Township before Aquaworld can proceed with construction.  

The complex would be about 500 metres from 72-year-old Mary Peterson's home.

"It's just a beautiful place and I don't want to see it spoiled with traffic and noise," Peterson said. "I'm not wanting to fight with people, but I'm driven to not spoil this beautiful area."  

Duelling petitions

In April, Peterson and other nearby residents were informed tests would be done in and around their homes to determine whether the area could handle the demands of a water park without affecting household wells.

On July 9, she presented the township with a petition with 82 signatures from residents opposed to the water park.

"It is a joke," Peterson said. "Who would be put a water park in people's backyards, with all this traffic on a two-lane road and with no Highway 401 access?"

Other residents, however, are welcoming the project.

Fletcher Wehmeyer, 28, grew up in North Augusta. The restaurant his father ran there for three decades closed two years ago.

"It used to be a booming place, and now there's no growth happening. [The water park] is going to bring year-round revenue and jobs," Wehmeyer said.

Wehmeyer, who now lives in Brockville, started another petition last week to counter the complaints from the anti-water park residents. He said he's collected 800 signatures from people who want the attraction built, and plans to present his petition at the township council meeting on Aug. 13.

Mayor supports project

Augusta Township Mayor Doug Malanka also supports the water park plan.

"I'm very excited," he said. "This is badly needed because it will have an immediate impact for Augusta through the taxes and the plain fact of the matter [that] it's about jobs here."   

Malanka is running for re-election, and said residents tell him the number 1 issue is about attracting businesses to the area.

"People tell me, 'For goodness sakes, get jobs because it's the only thing that will keep our kids here,'" he said.  

Adequate water supply

Malanka said he shares concerns about the township's water supply, but adds preliminary tests have indicated there is adequate water to feed the park.

He said more extensive testing is needed before rezoning is approved. 

On the issue of traffic congestion, Malanka said he's gone over a traffic study the developer provided to the provincial transportation ministry.

It indicated there won't be a significant impact in the area because traffic will be staggered throughout the day. He added some local roads may have to be widened to accommodate the increased amount of vehicles.

The mayor said before rezoning is granted a public meeting will be held to discuss residents' concerns.

Public meeting planned

In a statement to CBC, Stefano Ferrante, founder of Aquaworld Resort and Convention Centre, said he understands residents' concerns, and might have the same fears if he was in their position. 

"We understand that all projects of this nature have their attributes and their drawbacks," he said.

"Over the course of the last couple years we have tried to ensure that all the advantages of Aquaworld greatly exceed the disadvantages."

He said when the zoning application moves ahead there will be a public meeting where he, along with the engineering team behind the project, will answer questions.