Fines yes, but a longer term plan, too
THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW
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.