A tentative deal with Queen’s Park will see the Hamilton Conservation Authority lease the Eramosa Karst feeder lands for $1 per year, ending an impasse over the ownership of the upper Stoney Creek site that began last summer.
Councillor Brad Clark, who represents the area, said the agreement is expected to be approved by authority directors this evening and comes after months of negotiations with Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli’s office.
The province agreed in March of last year to preserve the 35-hectare grassy expanse to the east of the karst, but then hit the authority with a curve ball when its real estate arm, Infrastructure Ontario, demanded market value for the land.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s now protected forever,” Clark said of the agreement, which provides for a renewable 20-year lease.
“It’s a real day of celebration. We’ll have one of the largest conservation areas around in the east end. It is a huge piece of property.”
The deal expands the original 73-hectare karst park, donated to the authority by the province in 2006 in recognition of the Upper Mount Albion Road’s site’s unique network of caves, sink holes, dry valleys and sinking streams.
The Ontario Realty Corp. – now known as Infrastructure Ontario – initially wanted to sell the feeder lands for housing, but formally withdrew those plans last July amid opposition from the city, citizens group Friends of the Eramosa Karst, cave experts and local biologist Joe Minor, who discovered threatened bobolinks breeding there.
The latter find added a new twist because destroying the birds’ nesting habitat potentially put any development in conflict with the government’s own Endangered Species Act.
Clark said the tentative deal effectively ensures the feeder lands “will never be developed,” including because the city rezoned them as open space during the debate over their fate.
He credited Chiarelli for being “very creative in finding a solution” to the impasse, one that essentially upholds an initial commitment by former Hamilton Mountain Liberal MPP Sophia Aggelonitis, who pushed for the area’s protection.
“It will be very problematic for any future council or for any future provincial government to change the zoning, especially when it’s a natural open space,” Clark said.
“I could go through a long list of why legally it’s protected and why politically it would be impossible for a future government to change.”