The Swimmer


riverThe swimmer stood on the dock, contemplating the lazy current in the river. The warm spring, followed by the sunny days of early summer, had warmed the water enough to make the crossing less a challenge than a few weeks back, when he had first done it. It was still early enough in the day that the boaters weren’t on the water yet. The morning was calm and quiet, the sky clear and bright.

The perfect time for a swim.

He dropped his robe on the dock beside his towel, and prepared to dive.

“Just a moment!” a voice from the shore interrupted him. He turned to see a man in a dark grey suit striding purposefully along the dock towards him. He carried a briefcase in one hand and was holding a cellphone against his left ear with the other.

“Can I help you?” the swimmer asked, somewhat confused by the stranger’s interruption.

“Busby. George Busby. Municipal policies and planning department.” The stranger stuffed the phone into a pocket, and shoved his hand at the swimmer, who shook it automatically, but hesitantly. “You intending to swim today?”

“I am. Why?”

“Your plan, of course. We need to see your plan.”

“Plan?” The swimmer asked, confused. He looked around. There were no boats on the river yet, no construction on either bank that might cause concern for safety. Nothing at all that should prevent his swimming on this sunny morning. “What plan?”

“Your plan. Can’t have you just jumping in without knowing what you plan to do in the water. That’s not how we do things in this town. Everything requires a plan.”

“My plan is to reach the other side. Then swim back to this side. Is that enough?”

“Is that enough? Pffft! Hardly! ” Busby dismissed the idea with a soft snort and a shake of his head. “What did you file at town hall?”

“File?” The swimmer became more baffled. The morning seemed colder of a sudden. He picked up the robe and draped it over his shoulders.

“Yes, yes. File,” said Busby irritably. “Your proposal. Consultant’s report. Preliminary project analysis. Observational indicators. The D-30 with the RS-20 attached in triplicate. Impact estimates. Commercial review. Traffic study. Potential victim pre-examinations. Site approvals. All of it.”

The swimmer’s eyes widened. “What?”

Busby looked at the swimmer with narrowing eyes. “You did complete the paperwork, I trust. You must.  It’s the law. I’ll need to see your copies.”

“I don’t have any.”

“Well, when did you file your pre-meeting preparatory plan notification?”

“My what?”

Busby rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Your pre-meeting notification to establish a preparatory meeting to announce your proposal to submit a plan for public consultation. The one before the planning post-preparatory meeting.”

“I didn’t have any meetings. I’m just going for a morning swim.”

“Look here. No one goes for just a morning swim without a plan. And plans require pre-meetings to prepare. Did you think you could circumvent the public process? You can’t get your permits without submitting a plan, after all.”

What permits?”

“Your cross-river, bi-directional, single-user event permit for one. I see you were preparing to dive, so you’ll need proper bipedal take-off clearances and approvals, along with the health-and-safety certificates and full water quality analysis. And you’ll need an entry permit for the far side, plus return authorization to come back. Not to mention the property assessment analysis to determine whether your usage of this dock for entertainment events enhances the property value and changes your tax bracket.”

“I didn’t…” the swimmer began. “Look, this is my cottage. I’m just going for a swim in the river. Why would I need paperwork?”

Your cottage, eh? But is it your river? No, it’s a public river. And you cannot engage in activity in a public facility or property without approvals. And approvals need the proper paperwork. And paperwork needs a plan submitted in advance to be assessed and, if all is in order, examined by the committee for private use of public spaces then passed along to council for approval. So I need to see your plan. And your permits, please.”

“I don’t have any plan. Or permits. It’s a swim. There and back,” he pointed across the river. “What else do you need to know?”

“Well, for starters. How many strokes will it take? How many strokes do you do per minute? How long will you be in the water? What volume of water will you displace? What erosion will your wake cause to the shoreline? Is there an environmental impact that could change the community’s greenhouse gas footprint? Do you have the approval of the property owner on the far side or will you be trespassing? If it’s municipal property, has the town okayed your use of public lands for recreational purposes? Does your insurance cover your event? And have you posted the requisite notifications to all neighbouring properties within 400 metres of your event activity?”

“Why do you need any of this?”

“A good plan depends on having the exact data. We cannot leave any stone un-turned when it comes to planning. Everything must be quantified, else it cannot be analyzed. And without analysis, plans unravel. All aspects of your event needs must be scrutinized if we are to approve your plan.”

“It’s just a morning swim, across the river and back. I’ve been swimming here for years without doing any paperwork.”

Busby took out a small notebook and scribbled rapidly. “Previous offences, eh? Any convictions?”

“Convictions for what?”

“For engaging in unlawful activity in public. For failing to notify authorities of an event. For failing to file proper paperwork and failure to obtain necessary permits prior to undertaking any activity. Failing to provide proof of insurance. Is your bathing suit river-certified? What about your cap? Are you wearing reflectors and a bell? And that’s just for starters.” He closed the notebook and looked at the swimmer with hard eyes. “Bylaw will be around this afternoon with the appropriate citations. I’d advise you not to resist taking them. Just pay the fines and you can avoid a lengthy court appearance.”

“Court? For swimming in the river? Since when?”

“Since the start of this term, of course. Your local council ran on a policy that planning would be its focus. Since their election victory, everything must have a plan. As a municipality, we excel at creating and managing plans. Why, we have a plan for everything and every eventuality. Nothing is beneath our notice – even your little swim, sir.”

“I didn’t know anything about this. I hardly paid attention to the election. I don’t even read the local paper. I just come here to relax and swim.”

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse, sir. Council makes its legislation in good faith that it serves the greater good of the community and it behooves all of our citizens to be fully cognizant of those rules. Council has determined we need plans, and plans we will have. Plans guide us through the shoals of governance. Without them, we are rudderless. And plans cannot be made without preparing for them. Pre-planning is an essential step to good planning. And those pre-plans cannot be lightly undertaken without planning them. Otherwise it’s simply chaos. And we can’t have chaos in a well-regulated, well-planned community.”

“A swim will cause chaos? Since when?”

“It could,” Busby, somewhat defensively. “You could hit something. A fish. Some other swimmer. Or a boat. What if someone were hurt? Then there would be insurance claims. Liability. The town would be named as a co-defendant. It could cost taxpayers millions.”

“Hit someone else? No one is in the water. At this hour, there aren’t any boats. It would be just me.”

“We cannot be sure. Anything might happen. What if a meteorite were to strike while you were swimming in the public water? That would cause spectators emotional distress. What if someone were struck by a flying body part? The town would be partially liable. Maybe even completely liable, if we allowed you to go ahead without the proper forms. That’s why you have to plan for these things carefully. Alert to all possibilities. Can’t take chances. Planning requires careful examination and consideration of all contingencies. Studies. Consultant’s reports. A proper plan is not a single form, sir: it is a complex process built on a cohesive structure of interlocking, dynamic documentation that leverages the synergies of the entire municipality.”

“What if I promise not to sue anyone. Can I go for a swim then?”

“Waivers and disclaimers must be signed and witnessed, approved and posted. Your insurance company would have to agree in writing to waive their claims should something arise. The town’s lawyers must approve their approvals. A survey of the site must be conducted. Depth, current speed, water temperature recorded. Nothing must be left to chance. The town would have to conduct a feasibility study on the legal and financial aspects of your un-insured aquatic event activities. It would require at the very least an amendment to our comprehensive, municipal waterways strategic plan. That means more public meetings. Consultations. Staff reports. It will take weeks, maybe months to get before council.”

The swimmer’s shoulders slumped. “Months before I can go for a swim? It will be fall by then. Or winter.”

Busby’s eyes softened. “Look, I’m sure you didn’t break the law deliberately. I’ll let it go this time, as long as you promise to obey the rules and submit your future plans in a timely manner. We can’t have anyone not doing the right thing, can we? Plans are important. After all, this is a well-regulated community. We plan and we change plans to make them better. It says so right on our town motto: Malum consilium quod mutari non potest. It’s a bad plan that can’t be changed. And we cannot allow bad plans here.”

“I think I’ll just sit here and have a cup of coffee. Dangle my feet in the water. That be okay? I don’t need to file a plan for that, do I?” the swimmer asked.

Busby thought a moment. “No, I don’t believe we need a plan per se. But you will need to get a health inspection of your feet 24 hours before you put them in the river. And you’ll have to post an application for a commercial licence 30 days in advance. ”

“A what?”

“Commercial licence. See, the dock is built over the public waterway. Serving food or drink in a public space requires a commercial licence. And the application for same must be posted 30 days in advance of the public meeting, to give neighbours a chance to comment on your application. Plus you will need to comply with the waste management rules in case there is any material for disposal. Oh, and the wooden dock will need a certified safety covering in the seating area to prevent accidents that might result in slivers. The building official will have to inspect the dock to make sure it meets code, too.”

“And the health inspection?”

“To ensure you are not putting any toxic or hazardous materials into the public’s water through your biological appendages. File your application for foot insertion with the health unit 14 days before the scheduled event. Make it 21 days if you plan to insert both feet.”

“Is there anything nothing I can do out here that doesn’t require an inspection, a permit, or a plan?” the swimmer asked, defeated.

Busby looked around. “Yes, sir. You could sit right there on your porch and enjoy the view. As long as it’s after eight a.m. and not later than 10 p.m. And you don’t have any alcohol or tobacco products in view. And you don’t play any audio device at such volume it might disturb your neighbours. No reflective surfaces are permitted, either. Don’t want to blind anyone. And of course, you do have the proper permit for seasonal open-air porch sitting, don’t you?”

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