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Old Posted Mar 31, 2008, 3:46 PM
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Eramosa Karst

ORC set for public input on karst lands

Richard Leitner Mar 28, 2008 Stoney Creek News

A group seeking to protect Stoney Creek's Eramosa Karst says it's concerned an environmental assessment on neighbouring lands is biased toward development.

Rita Giulietti, spokesperson for Friends of the Eramosa Karst, said she's glad to see the province's Ontario Realty Corporation (ORC) is conducting a thorough review of four properties it owns near the existing 73-hectare park. But she said the public agency's mandate to get the maximum value from land holdings skews the process.

The ORC gave notice last week on the province's environmental registry it is set to begin the public consultation portion of a Class C environmental assessment initiated four years ago.

The city has frozen development in the area to allow for the study.

"I think when you define value simply as monetary value, you're just going to develop it," Ms. Giulietti said. "But if you see that there's value in preserving the landscape, maybe your perspective is a little different," she said. "There are other places to develop in the Hamilton area that are not as environmentally sensitive."

Imshun Je, the ORC's environmental assessment coordinator, said the study will consider whether the buffer zone for the karst should be expanded, as several experts contend.

But she said the focus is to prepare the four sites - 87 hectares of land located east of Mount Albion Road between Rymal and Highland roads - for sale because they are "surplus to government needs."

The largest is an 80-hectare field to the immediate east of the karst, home to an abundance of caves, sink holes, dry valleys and sinking streams created by dissolving limestone.

The other parcels are to the south, along Rymal Road.

Ms. Je expects the first of two required public information meetings on the properties' future to be held in May.

Technical studies, including on area surface-water flows, are being completed, she said, calling expansion of the karst's buffer zone "an option."

"The Eramosa Karst Park definitely warrants protection," she said.

Donated to the Hamilton Conservation Authority by the ORC in the fall of 2006, the park is being readied for its official opening on June 20.

Sandy Bell, manager of design and development, said the authority hasn't taken a position on the expansion of boundaries.

Before doing so, it will review the ORC's studies, he said.

"Obviously we're interested in seeing what they've come up with because there's been a fair amount of discussion on those lands to the east," Mr. Bell said.

"These were the technical reports that were going to say what would be the impact of development on those lands, what would be the impact on karst features," he said.

"That's what we don't know right now and we haven't said too much about it, (waiting) until we receive the reports."

Those backing an expansion of the park include Marcus Buck, a cave expert who played a key role in convincing the province to protect the karst in the first place.

In a letter last August, he expressed concern that construction in the area has already ignored recommendations designed to ensure neighbouring development doesn't alter water flows into the karst.

As an example, he cited "extensive dumping of fill" within the catchment of Nexus Creek - located on ORC land to the east - that flows into Nexus Cave, the karst's biggest and rarest geological feature.

Co-author of a 2003 report that led Queen's Park to donate the karst to the conservation authority, Mr. Buck warned altering water flows may change erosion patterns in ways that "may not become apparent for many decades."

That erosion may be exacerbated by road salt and other contaminants, he cautioned. In the case of hydrocarbons - the components of fuels like methane gas - they may "create explosive atmospheres within caves."

"Ultimately, the impacts from urban development cannot be predicted entirely and this leads to some uncertainty regarding protection of the karst," Mr. Buck wrote.

Information on the ORC's consultation process is at www.ebr.gov.on.ca, registry number 010-2236.

Friends of the Eramosa Karst

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