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Cootes Paradise – My Perspective

November 24, 2019

“The Earth is a fine place and worth fighting for.”    — Ernest Hemingway

 

I visited Princess Point yesterday afternoon. With the revelations of the past week, I just felt the need to have a look and to reflect. The fact that the parking lot is closed and under construction simply added a further element of desolation to my surroundings and all was quiet as I walked to the water.

 

I thought back to the Hamilton Spectator stories of these past days starting with the original November 21 article by Steve Buist breaking the news and the subsequent November 22 article by Matthew Van Dongen. These stories clearly demonstrate the value and power of vibrant and local journalism.

 

I had read with absolute disgust the details of 24 billion litres of untreated wastewater leaching into Cootes Paradise over a four-year period and it left me with more questions than answers. How is this even possible? How could this have been going on for four years? Where are the checks and balances? How significant is the environmental impact? Who is responsible? Who thought keeping this a secret would work or be the right thing to do?

 

This is a favourite spot for me and an oasis where I can routinely be found kayaking tranquil coves and exploring its picturesque hiking trails. I am constantly left in awe by the abundance of wildlife located so close to a major metropolitan centre as I spot bald eagles, great blue herons, egrets, beaver, deer, fishers, turtles and countless waterfowl and songbirds. Even now, it’s not difficult to understand why Captain Thomas Coote referred to this beautiful spot as a paradise back in the late 1700’s.

 

Fast forward to today when we learn that billions of litres of sewage and wastewater have been allowed to enter this area, a wetland and biosphere globally recognized as significant, and that our city council once aware, chose to not disclose this information. No disclosure to the residents of the area, including many like myself who were actively spending time there, and not to the Royal Botanical Gardens, whose long-term efforts to re-mediate the area have been instrumental to its ongoing success. When I think of the millions in taxpayer dollars and human capital including tireless work by volunteer groups such as Stewards of Cootes Watershed that have dedicated themselves to the area, it feels like a slap to the face. How many years of efforts have been wiped out?

 

I watched the interview with Tys Theijsmeijer from the RBG as he described the fact that at certain times, this leakage had the effect of removing all oxygen from the water, essentially killing life. I’m not sure we will ever know the full extent of that damage. Cootes Paradise is the largest wetland of the western end of Lake Ontario and is considered a National Historic Site, a Nationally Important Bird Area (IBA) and a Nationally Important Reptile and Amphibian Area (IMPARA). Countless birds stage over here as a part of their migration and the thought of this damage and its effects makes me angry.

Walking the shore, I spotted the berm of discarded Christmas trees, an effort to divert water from Chedoke Creek into the direction of the bay in an effort to minimize damage. The fact that all of this pollution also found its way into the bay remains troubling as wildlife rich areas like Carroll’s Bay are directly adjacent and could also be affected by this disaster.

 

The fact that the city was aware of this catastrophe as early as the start of 2019 and made the choice not to divulge so as to put their own reputations ahead of their constituents is also immoral and shortsighted.

 

In the aftermath, I thank leaders like MPP Sandy Shaw who have been like a lone wolf in the wilderness as well as countless private citizens on social media who have not allowed this story to die. Their leadership is in direct contrast to Hamilton city council members who, with a couple of exceptions, have displayed an embarrassing level of silence and moral cowardice as they worked to suppress this important issue. As each day goes by, the silence from the city becomes louder, a scandalous lack of leadership.

 

It will be interesting to watch this play out now that this story has been exposed and I expect that it will remain a pivotal issue that each member of council will be forced to justify to their constituents during the next municipal election. I intend to stay close to the story as I know others will as well. I also applaud those individuals and groups that I know will without hesitation, get involved to address this issue and this vacuum of leadership.

 

I stood at the shore and watched the geese and ducks settling in for the evening with a touch of sadness. Evidently, they as well as the rest of the local wildlife are unable to read the small “unsafe water” signs that have been posted.

 

Definitely not a proud day for Hamilton.

 

© Cameron Goede 2019

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