Three Cheers For St. Catharines Council For Keeping Heritage Gem Out Of Clutches Of The NPCA

Doug Draper

Posted August 31th on Niagara At Large

In a region where people are getting increasingly upset at the very mention of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s name, we got some uplifting news late this August.

The historic Morningstar Mill site off Decew Road in the Niagara municipality of St. Catharines, Ontario. Photo by Doug Draper

The historic Morningstar Mill site off Decew Road in the Niagara municipality of St. Catharines, Ontario. Photo by Doug Draper

Thanks to St. Catharines city councillors Bruce Williamson, Carlos Garcia, Mat Siscoe, Joe Kushner, Sal Sorrento, Mike Britton, Jennifer Stevens, Mark Elliott, David Haywood, and Bill Phillips voting at an August 22nd council meeting to retain scenic lands off Decew Road that host the historic Morningstar Mill and a replica of a vintage saw mill, a bid by the NPCA to take hold of it has been squashed – at least for now.

“The NPCA hasn’t exactly had a great track record,” Bruce Williamson, one of the councillors leading the charge against transferring this beloved heritage site to the Conservation Authority, was quoted saying in Niagara This Week.

“The NPCA hasn’t exactly had a great track recorded,” added Williamson. “We face the risk of putting it in the hands of people who will not be good stewards. I strongly feel it would be a mistake to give it to the NPCA.”

Good call Bruce!

There are already plenty of questions circulating around this region and the neighbouring City of Hamilton (where the council has been refusing to grant the NPCA any more tax money above and beyond what it already gives, and where it has been demanding an independent audit of the NPCA’s operations, about this outfit’s firing and hiring practices, and what contracts it has been awarded to whomever by this outfit.

Are there any outstanding lawsuits in the works over past staff firings? And if so, how much is that costing those of us who pay taxes across this region? How much of the funding they get through our taxes is actually going to conservation projects?

Photo by Doug Draper

Photo by Doug Draper

It is tough to get solid questions to these and other questions because the NPCA seems to operate like a free-spinning wheel with little or no accountability to municipal governments or the province.

This past spring, a Niagara citizen’s delegation went to the regional council to press for an independent value-for-dollar audit of the NPCA’s operations and was frustrated, accused of making untrue and potentially defamatory comments, and ultimately turned away.

And now we, the people of Niagara who live and pay taxes here, are supposed to accept that for an answer to an audit request, and simply sit back again this year while our municipal governments collectively grant the NPCA another $8 million or so of our money.

What we should consider doing instead is joining forces with the City of Hamilton in demanding an audit before dishing out another dollar of our money, and in demanding a complete house cleaning of the board and top administrators of the NPCA.

Why not scrap this body completely and place its good field staff and conservation areas under the jurisdiction of the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources. Some may have issues with the MNR, but at least citizens what body is accountable for addressing their questions and concerns.

I would never imagine saying these things about the NPCA 10 or 20 years ago when people like Andy Burt, Doug Elliot and Gord Harry were still with the body and carrying out its historic mission as more of an uncompromising voice for conservation. But that was then and now we have something else that needs overhauling as soon as possible.

In the meantime, good for those St. Catharines councillors for keeping the Morningstar Mills site out of the NPCA’s hands.

The City of St. Catharines is apparently wanting to divest itself of some of its properties, but there must be other potential parties it could approach for a precious heritage site like this.

How about approaching the provincial or federal government, just for starters?

Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region.

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2 responses to “Three Cheers For St. Catharines Council For Keeping Heritage Gem Out Of Clutches Of The NPCA

  1. Why can’t Canada appreciate its heritage? If something is old, tear it down. Go to the UK and Europe and there are buildings from the 12th and 13th centuries, still inhabited and still used. We have very little history by comparison and what we could have is often destroyed.

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  2. I attended the St. Catharines budget committee meeting on Cultural issues this spring, and raised my concerns about the lack of stewardship shown by the NPCA for already held heritage sites, and inquired of the council committee members about this looming partnership. None of the councillors knew anything about it, nor who on staff was working towards the partnership, only that it was one of many things being discussed.
    As well, when this consideration was first put in motion by the Mayor and the NPCA two years ago, not one person from the St. C. Heritage Committee was advised of the meeting, only the Friends of Morningstar Mill were told and in attendance.

    I know. I am and was a member of the St. C. Heritage committee.

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