Dredging to begin at Britannia Beach

Work begins Monday to dredge Britannia Beach, closing the popular summer spot until October. The city says it's too late to postpone the project, even though the closure will leave less public space for residents to cool off during the pandemic.

Work proceeding despite COVID-19, leaving fewer options for families

Britannia Beach is officially closed and there are no lifeguards on duty, but that hasn't stopped some people from congregating there. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Work is set to begin today at Britannia Breach on a dredging project that will keep it closed for the rest of the summer.

Crews will begin by erecting construction fencing to reserve space for heavy equipment. Work in the water will begin July 15 and is expected to last until October.

When Mooney's Bay, Westboro and Petrie Island beaches opened June 27, bathers flocked to cool off while maintaining a two-metre distance due to COVID-19 — or at least trying to. 

According to Dan Chenier, the city's general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services, the project can't be delayed.

"Construction must be undertaken between July and October in order to meet Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change regulations that restrict work on shorelines and in water to minimize impact on fish habitat and other significant aquatic species," Chenier said in a statement.

A family enjoys Britannia Park, which will remain open throughout the dredging project at the adjacent beach, on Canada Day 2020. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Nor is it feasible to put the work off until next year, Chenier said.

"Until mid-June, it was not anticipated that a beach season would be permissible until Phase 3 of the provincial reopening, and this appeared to present a good opportunity to complete the work," Chenier said. "Contracts for this work are in place and the work must go ahead this year."

The city said the work is necessary because silt and sand carried by the river's current, waves and unprecedented spring flooding, has gradually filled in the swimming area. Since the last dredging in 1990, the water depth has shrunk to less than half a metre.

The dredging work will provide "a more consistent slope and better water depth within the swimming area," Chenier said.

Weekend drowning

Even though Britannia Beach has officially been off limits and there's no lifeguard on duty, people have still been flocking to the popular summer hangout — and swimming in the water, despite warning signs.

That led to tragedy this weekend when a 20-year-old swimmer died after he went into the water Saturday night and failed to resurface.

His body was found early Sunday morning.

The public will still have access to the rest of Britannia Park during the dredging work, including the picnic area, pier, beach pavilion and pathways. The Kolbus Lakeside Centre remains closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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