We have all had situations in our lives when we have been torn between what would be the wise, prudent solution to a problem versus the best, most practical solution. Meaford's council found themselves facing such a solution and they opted to pass on a wise solution and instead support the best solution.
The issue facing council at their meeting on Monday was what to do about two popular shoreline parks – Fred Raper Park and David Johnston Park - that have seen extensive damage in recent months, thanks to a combination of high water levels in the bay, and strong north winds that have worked together to dump a significant amount of debris into the parks.
Sand, rocks, tree stumps, and a host of other items have been accumulating in those two parks, particularly Fred Raper Park, where a park bench with sand and stone debris reaching the seat of the bench itself offers a good indication of just how much debris is in the park.
Council was presented with four options ranging from the extremely cheap – closing the parks – to the most expensive of the options, returning the parks to their 2019 condition.
In between those two options was perhaps the wisest of the solutions, that being to removing all park equipment and naturalizing the two parks, at least for the coming years in order to assess if shoreline conditions will continue to worsen with high water levels, or, if water levels begin to drop, making it easier to justify investing in the parks once again.
Given that most of the predictions I've read warn of even higher water levels to come, and as a result more shoreline erosion and damage is likely on the way, if council was looking for the solution that made the most sense, I think that naturalizing the parks for the foreseeable future would be that solution.
But sometimes risks are worth taking, and Meaford's council overwhelmingly supported the fourth option presented to them, which would see the parks rehabilitated and brought back to the condition that residents and visitors are accustomed to. Yes, it was the most expensive of the options (though in the world of municipal governance, $80,000 no matter the size of your municipality is literally peanuts), and yes, there is a chance that the money will be spent, the parks rehabilitated, and then one storm could undo all of that work and expense overnight. But this is a community for which tourism is an important industry, and this municipality would not have much 'curb appeal' if our two prime shoreline parks have had all of their character and equipment removed, leaving just open (though beautiful) space.
There is no question that if your sole concern is cost, the most suitable solution would be to close the parks and ride out the high water levels in hopes that in a few years we might see conditions that would merit returning the parks to former conditions. While this might make financial sense, I suspect that the kids who will in a few months be on summer break would disagree, as would visitors to this community.
If you are risk averse but less concerned with cost, then naturalizing the parks would ensure that the spaces were open to the public, and there would be no concern about what this summer's storms might bring as there would be no playground equipment or other municipal assets to damage. In a few years, if water levels have dropped, the parks could be refurbished and equipped. Likely the most sensible solution, but certainly not the most practical, particularly for families with young children.
So I was pleased that in this instance, council opted to take a risk and spend the money to return the parks to their previous state, ensuring they will be open and fully available for residents and visitors this summer. This decision could come back to bite council. It is entirely possible that a month (or mere days) after spending the money and time that a storm could dump more debris in the parks undoing all that has been done, and the municipality could easily have wasted the estimated $80,000. But there's also a chance that we might avoid any such storms, there's a chance that water levels could begin to drop, and the investment in the rehabilitation of these parks will be seen as a sound decision.
Sometimes the wise solution isn't the best solution, and sometimes it is appropriate to roll the dice, and I think this is one of them.