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CONSERVATION COIN

A happy ending for conservation lovers, as the Hamilton Conservation Authority Board buys into removal of Maplewood Hall (and the long roadway and parking area) to rehabilitate the natural lands at this beautiful property.

Money from private donors saved the day, swaying the HCA Advisory Board to finally agree to what the HCA staff report had previously unequivocally determined was the best course of action.

Yet this victory for nature leaves me somewhat disconcerted about how this all played out, and what it might mean for the HCA's future.

Here's how I interpreted the chain of events: Maplewood is losing money, the HCA decides to examine it's future. HCA staff prepare a detailed report outlining various options and recommend removing Maplewood and naturalizing the area as the preferred option. The HCA Board decides to wait and seek other options, though it seems there was no formal process to seek options. At some point Tony Evans of the Dundas Montessori school gets told about Maplewood and after seeing it for the first time, decides it would be a perfect place for his private school. Discussions take place privately between HCA and Evans.

The strange thing to me is that the HCA seemed to be encouraging this option, which was roundly denounced by environmentalists from the venerable Hamilton Naturalist Club, to Thomas Beckett, the HCA's first chairperson and the person who arranged for the purchase of the property in question when he was chair. The only people speaking in support of private school use were Evans and the person who built Evans' school playground. Their claims that the school would save the conservation movement were bombastic and self-serving.

The Dundas Valley is a special place, thanks to people like Mr Beckett, Joanna Chapman and others who share a vision of the common good and are willing to speak up and defend conservation principles, even when the Authority won't.

The people who are putting their money on the line to ensure the HCA protects the valley are people with a long and proven commitment to conservation. It is wonderful that they are able to offer resources to see the right thing is done in this case. Yet two things jump out at me here. One: if the HCA had acted on the staff report, and not bargained with Evans, these folks might not have had to pledge to the cause. Does this mean if the HCA makes another questionable call they will be expecting citizens with money to buy the right decision? Or two: will the HCA take money if the offer is sweet enough to trade some land for private uses that may or may not be compatible with principles of conservation?

I'd like to have full faith in the HCA to do the right thing. At this point, I'm not sure which way this could go.

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