Fines yes, but a longer term plan, too

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

Post­ing guards and is­su­ing fines would not have been our first choice to re­duce tres­pass­ing and ac­ci­dents at Hamil­ton area wa­ter­falls. But given the scope of the prob­lem, par­tic­u­larly at Al­bion Falls where there have been sev­eral falls, rope res­cues and one fa­tal­ity this year alone, Hamil­ton city coun­cil had lit­tle choice but to do just that. It’s a fairly heavy-handed, and prob­a­bly ex­pen­sive way to deal with the prob­lem, but no one should blame coun­cil­lors since they were put in this po­si­tion by the ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity and bad judg­ment demon­strated by too many vis­i­tors.

Here’s why it’s not ideal. It won’t work with­out sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in sturdy fenc­ing — tres­passers have lit­er­ally trod­den over fenc­ing of the more flimsy va­ri­ety. That’s look­ing like $75,000 at this point. And given that many of the tres­passers are also tourists, how likely is it that they will pay at­ten­tion to a fine levied by by­law of­fi­cials or lo­cal po­lice? How will the city col­lect from tru­cu­lent tres­passers? And are the fines even big enough? Tres­pass­ing fines — be­tween $105 and $150 — may need to be in­creased to be much of a de­ter­rent.

There’s also the risk of con­fronta­tion with ag­gres­sive tres­passers. The last thing we want are al­ter­ca­tions, or to see by­law of­fi­cials pur­su­ing tres­passers and pos­si­bly get­ting in­jured them­selves do­ing so.

All that said, given the growth in tres­pass­ing at places like Al­bion Falls, the ex­pense of the in­creas­ing num­ber of res­cues and num­ber of ac­ci­dents, this is a nec­es­sary course of ac­tion. So build those high, strong chain-link fences. And put up a va­ri­ety of warn­ing signs. And post by­law staff, at least at peak times. (That’s likely to be ex­pen­sive and have im­pacts on other ar­eas of en­force­ment.)

But while this is a rea­son­able re­sponse, it’s not a long-term so­lu­tion. Coun­cil and staff al­ready know this, but it’s im­por­tant av­er­age cit­i­zens do, too. Even­tu­ally, given cur­rent trends and pri­or­i­ties, the pop­u­lar­ity of Hamil­ton wa­ter­falls and other land­marks is only go­ing to grow. We’ve al­ways wanted Hamil­ton to be an at­trac­tion in these and other ways, and now it is.

But we’re not quite ready for all that en­tails. A more holis­tic so­lu­tion is needed. Mayor Fred Eisen­berger has mused about a view­ing plat­form and stair­way to make Al­bion Falls more safely ac­ces­si­ble. But those sorts of changes are ex­pen­sive, and have to be bal­anced against the cost to the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment. And if such mea­sures are ap­pro­pri­ate for Al­bion, a sim­i­lar phi­los­o­phy will need to be brought to bear on other at­trac­tions — many of which fall un­der the con­ser­va­tion au­thor­ity, not the city.

None of this is sim­ple, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s not a bad thing, ei­ther. This is the city fi­nally com­ing into its own in terms of nat­u­ral at­trac­tions. We just have to man­age that re­al­ity.

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