Bay cleanup pioneer named environmentalist of year
Sproule-Jones lauded for approach
By Richard Leitner
Dundas Star News
Published May 26, 2006
Mark Sproule-Jones had no inkling how pioneering his task would be when he arrived in town 23 years ago to help revitalize Hamilton Harbour.
Recruited to McMaster University through a five-year city grant, the political scientist was dismayed to discover that one of this area's central natural features had all but been ignored by government and academia.
"I was appalled," says Mr. Sproule-Jones, who had come to the attention of city officials for his work on B.C.'s Lower Fraser River.
"There were a couple of biological studies looking at fish in the harbour. There was one water quality study which the (Bill) Davis (provincial) government had embargoed because they were afraid if they let out the information, the people would ask them to spend money."
To rectify the situation, Mr. Sproule-Jones began by analyzing the legal arrangements for the harbour's different uses and then became involved in developing a remedial action plan.
That led to the formation of the Bay Area Restoration Council and Bay Area Implementation Team and, more importantly he says, identifying the agencies responsible for safeguarding the harbour, the worst of 17 designated areas of concern on the Great Lakes.
His work on the bay -- which has resulted in what many judge as one of the more successful action plans -- is among the accomplishments that will see Mr. Sproule-Jones honoured on June 7 as this year's recipient of the Dr. Victor Cecilioni Award for Environmentalist of the Year.
Despite a track record that also includes two books and several academic journal articles on harbour and Great Lakes pollution issues, work on Hamilton's lauded, if much-ignored Vision 2020 plan for a sustainable community and his leading role in the citizen's group Environment Hamilton, he says the honour "was quite a surprise."
"I'm more of kind of a backroom guy than someone who goes out. I try to get things done through individual cooperation rather than through demonstrations," he says.
"This is far more flattering to me than another sort of academic kind of praise or award.
"It's the general community saying, 'Well done,' which is very, very pleasing."
John Struger, one of judges for the award, now in its 27th year, says Mr. Sproule-Jones embodies the qualities of the honour's namesake, Dr. Cecilioni.
He cites as an example Mr. Sproule-Jones' chairing of Environment Hamilton through its formative stages, which helped give the group instant credibility.
"He's not just involved academically, but personally as well," Mr. Struger says.
"He's really gone to great lengths to promote community involvement in local environmental issues."
That involvement includes not being fearful of taking strong stands, as when Mr. Sproule-Jones resigned as chair of the Bay Area Restoration Council in 2002 to protest its support for capping rather than removing the harbour's massive coal-tar blob at Randle Reef, located offshore just west of Stelco.
He continues to view the plan as "dead wrong."
"I think burying toxic waste in Hamilton Harbour and putting a shipping port on top of it absolves Stelco of responsibility for its pollution," he says.
"It provides us with the opportunity to look forward to digging it up and dealing with it, or our future generations dealing with it."
Although he recently relocated to Burlington from Dundas, Mr. Sproule-Jones, 64, says he has no plans to lessen his involvement in local environmental issues.
He is currently working on a third book on harbour-Great Lake issues and, despite criticism of decisions like the one at Randle Reef, finds Hamilton has a high level of environmental awareness and activism.
"I find the environmentalists to be the most vigourous and concerned citizens presently in the city, and raising the issues that need to be addressed," he says.
"Even on city council there are issues being debated, such as the peak oil thing, which, to their credit, even though people on council may disagree with that whole direction, (they) are listening to that and are I think being influenced by those kinds of issues.
This year's awards dinner, set for June 7 at the Hillcrest Restaurant, will also feature two lifetime achievement awards. Ancaster resident Alison Healing is being honoured for her quarter century of involvement with the Conserver Society and efforts on issues like pesticides. John Hall, coordinator of the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan, is being recognized for his longtime leadership efforts on cleaning up the bay.
Awards of merit will also be presented to Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School teacher Alex Komarniski and the Fifty Point Conservation Area Marina. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at Chapman Books in Dundas or by calling Mr. Struger at 905-547-5116.