Dispute with local health unit drains hot tubs at some Ontario resorts

Co-owner Stephen Orr was already struggling to get his resort in rural Ontario back on its feet after being closed due to the pandemic – when he suffered another blow.

Its local health unit has ordered the resort to close all of its spas because they do not comply with provincial rules – rules which he says have been ignored by local authorities for decades and which are not enforced in neighboring jurisdictions.

Orr operates Buttermilk Falls Resort, which includes nine rental chalets and five spas. The hot tubs are on the private decks of each cottage and are only used by guests renting that specific cottage.

But last month the resort was forced to empty the tubs after the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District (HKPR) health unit said it was not complying with provincial regulations. Requirements – typical of large public pools with communal hot tubs – include drowning safety equipment, a landline phone and showers.

“It’s kind of crazy,” Orr said. “[The tubs] are incredibly safe…why do they put a whole bunch of [safety measures] this really doesn’t apply?”

CBC Toronto spoke to four resort owners who said they were caught off guard after the health unit ordered them to shut down their spas, even though they’ve been operating as-is for several years, some for decades .

One of Buttermilk Falls’ private hot tubs. The rules cited by the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit appear not to have been enforced for years and are being ignored in similar cases in neighboring jurisdictions. (Angelina King/CBC)

The owners say the regulations are impossible to follow and the closures not only impact their bottom line, but will hurt the wider economy of Haliburton County – about 200 kilometers northeast of Toronto .

“We really want to be part of the community and help the tourism part of the community and we feel like we’re not doing that and we’re at a disadvantage,” said Harsha Manani, co-owner of Lakeview Motel. .

The rules are not new

The environmental health officer for HKPR’s health unit says provincial regulations have always applied to spas at these resorts, but the health unit only discovered many of them recently, after that an order was issued to one of the properties last fall.

“We discovered some of these other companies by competitors pointing fingers at them,” Bernard Mayer said.

Since issuing that first order, the unit has ordered the closure of spas at two other properties and is investigating four others for non-compliance with the rules for public swimming pools and spas under the Protection and Safety Act. health promotion.

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Harsha Manani says it was heartbreaking to disappoint customers after hot tubs closed

Lakeview Motel appealed its order to the Health Services Appeal and Review Board, arguing that hot tubs for private use were not public spas, as they were only accessible to customers staying in four specific units.

The rules provide an exemption for properties with five suites or less.

But the review board upheld the order on the grounds that there were a total of 14 “living units” at the Lakeview Motel.

Mayer says the number of people who use or have access to a spa isn’t the issue.

“[The regulation] is based on the number of rooms and suites available for rent at the property,” he said.

The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario says the HKPR health unit is the only one it knows of that enforces the public pool and spa regulations in this way.

The Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit, which regulates another neighboring and tourist-heavy part of the province’s cottage country, says it does not enforce regulations on private hot tubs in rental units that are intended to the exclusive use of the occupants.

Sandy Lane Resort’s Rob Berthelot says guests canceled their reservations after learning the hot tubs weren’t available. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

Resorts estimate 25% drop in revenue

Manani’s vats remained closed, which she says led to a 25% drop in revenue.

“We were absolutely flabbergasted…because the hot tubs had been in use for a good 20 years before we owned them without any issues,” she said.

Orr says he’s lost about $1,000 a week giving discounts to guests who booked a chalet with a hot tub and estimates the resort will lose a quarter of its annual revenue if it can’t reopen the baths whirlwind this fall.

“At this level we’re probably not doing our mortgage and at this level we’re probably closing the whole complex,” he said.

Other operators like Rob Berthelot, owner of Sandy Lane Resort, have already asked guests to cancel after learning the hot tubs are no longer available.

Last month, this closure notice was given in Buttermilk Falls. (Submitted by Stephen Orr)

“It’s frustrating because it came out of left field,” he said. “I have enough other issues to deal with to have lost nearly half a million dollars in revenue over the past two years due to COVID.”

The health unit “sympathizes”

Mayer says the health unit sympathizes with the resorts and, therefore, has not issued any fines against them.

“We try to work with them where we can,” he said. “Generally, for each of them, we could issue 12 charges, which could amount to over $3,000.”

The order issued against Buttermilk Falls Resort lists more than 30 infractions, including no shower, dedicated emergency landline, floating throwing aid with rope for emergency use, backboard and timing that requires users to exit the hot tub to reset it.

Adding just the phone lines would be “prohibitively expensive,” Orr said, and would force the hot tubs to be removed.

Even though Oakview Lodge and Marina only rents out a six-bedroom cottage to a group at a time, health inspectors are still shutting down the indoor hot tub.

Greg Hebert, co-owner of Oakview Lodge and Marina, hopes resort owners and the local health unit can find a “common sense” solution. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

Co-owner Greg Hebert was told he could remove two beds from the lodge to reduce the number of “units” to less than six, or remove the tub.

“There has to be hopefully some common sense and somewhere in the middle,” he said.

Resort owners say they are happy to abide by reasonable regulations and would like to work with the provincial government to change them, but so far they have come to nothing.

CBC Toronto asked the Ontario Ministry of Health to clarify the intent of the regulations and whether the province would consider changing them, but the ministry chose not to answer those questions.

Instead, in a statement, a spokesperson said the department could not comment on the matter because enforcement — and inspections — are the responsibility of local public health units.

Manani says small family businesses like hers are being abandoned.

” What do we do ? What can we do ?

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