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Monday, August 22, 2005

Conservation authority loses lawsuit

A couple fought and won a decision by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, but it's taxpayers who may end up footing the bill.
The authority heard a case of a couple who wanted to develop a residence on an Innisfil property that, just last June, experienced a once-in-100-year-calibre flood.

The board of directors rejected the plan twice for safety reasons, said Gayle Wood, CAO of the authority.

"Our primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of people in these areas," she said. "This couple wanted to build in a highly susceptible area."

After being rejected twice by the authority board, the couple appealed to the Mining and Land Commissioner, which ruled in favour of the development since the individuals had already spent so much money on bringing forward their case, Ms Wood said.

"On top of approving the development, the commissioner also felt the party should be awarded their cost to be paid by the conservation authority," she said.

The authority felt it should not have to reimburse the family for those costs, which haven't been confirmed, in addition to the authority's own expenses. Since the conservation authority is funded by the municipal and provincial governments, the cost will be paid through tax dollars. The authority presented its objections to the approval of development and reimbursement to the Ontario Court of Justice.

"The courts still wanted their costs awarded and are allowing the development," Ms. Wood said.

After hearing an allegation accusing her of trying to keep the matter quiet, she said she is doing the complete opposite. Each hearing was an open session and the only reason the matter was discussed in-camera at the board's July meeting was because it is a legal matter and policy states it must be dealt with behind closed doors, she said.

"I will soon be doing a full analysis of the court case, the outcome and to see how it impacts our decision-making process," she added. "Then I will be discussing the information with other municipalities, Conservation Ontario and the province."

Until legal council has been sought, CAO Wood was unable to release the name of the couple or comment on who now holds legal responsibility if a flood occurs after development.

Ear infections and swimmer's ear

So far, my children's list of summer holiday souvenirs includes one embroidered silk shirt from Toronto's Chinatown, two bags of 'gem stones' from Collingwood, and three raging ear infections from Lake Simcoe.

But they aren't alone. This season's hot, humid weather has meant more time spent cooling off in area pools and lakes, which, in turn, means more residents and cottagers are turning up at Royal Victoria Hospital's emergency department with painful 'swimmer's ear.'

"Our cottage country location means we treat a large number of people with otitis externa infection, and some are quite severe. We admit at least two people a month so they can be put on intravenous antibiotics," says RVH ear, nose and throat surgeon, Dr. Rob Ballagh. "And swimmer's ear is a very painful infection. In fact, I've had several women tell me it was worse than childbirth!"

I've never suffered swimmer's ear, but based on the number of sleepless, summer nights I've spent cradling my crying children, I can only imagine how much it hurts.

So what causes outer ear infections? Well, according to Dr. Ballagh there are a few reasons.

Some people are just naturally more susceptible to outer ear infections. They may produce a lot of ear wax, have a skin condition in their ear, such as eczema, or their ear canal is smaller than normal, trapping wax and water - conditions perfect for breeding bacteria.

The skin of the ear canal is extremely thin and therefore becomes wrinkled and 'pruney' - just like our fingertips - after a long swim, breaking down the skin's natural resistance to bacterial invasion.

That skin also sits directly on bone, making it especially prone to injury from anything that touches it, including cotton swabs. Ballagh warns that cleaning your ears with one of these seemingly harmless tools, not only shoves wax deeper inside your ear, but can result in tiny scratches that allow bacteria to enter.

"My grandmother always told me not to put anything into my ear that is bigger than my elbow and that's what I tell my patients," he says.

"Wipe the outer ear with a tissue or a damp washcloth to remove any unsightly or visible wax, but leave some behind. Wax is your body's way of naturally protecting the ear."

Outer ear infections can usually be cleared up quickly with antibiotic drops, although in my daughter's case, swelling of the ear canal required a matchstick-sized 'wick' to be painfully inserted to ensure the medication got past the blockage.

In the meantime, we'll be spending some time on dry land and picking up two pairs of ear plugs for future dips. This is one summer souvenir we can do without.

- Suzanne Legue is Royal Victoria Hospital's director of development and public affairs.

Tragedies make us think about inflatibles, inexperienced swimmers

THERE'S A pall over our communities this week that will be very tough to shake.

The drowing deaths of a 6-year-old boy and a 35-year-old native son of Stayner in two separate incidents underscore just how fragile life is.

Our effort to make sense of, and learn from, these tragedies has caused some discussion.

One is a question about how often inflatable toys - air mattresses, beach balls, dingys and rafts - lead to tragedy.

MNR officials at Wasaga Beach will tell you that swimmers regularly get into trouble trying to manage off-shore winds on an inflatible of some sort.

In 2003, a father lost his life after successfully bringing his daughter to shore. She had drifted out on an air mattress and got into trouble trying to swim for shore.

We don't know precisely what happened on the weekend when Rob Swanton, 35, went into the water. We do know he was trying to retrieve a dingy that had drifted away from shore.

For every tragedy there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of examples of pure family fun with beach toys. They encourage young swimmers, they amuse and occupy the time of bored kids. The laughter of children pushing and shoving one another off of air mattresses or the sqeals of a child floating for the first time under the security of an inflatable ring are measures of summer fun.

I don't think it's possible to do away with inflatibles, but I think we do need to view them in a new light - as a potential threat to our kids and ourselves.

The drowning death of six-year-old Terry Thanthaik has revived the discussion about the need for mandatory swimming lessons for all young children.

The young man is reported to have had a few swimming lessons - apparently enough to have created some confidence about going back into the water. His family clearly thought he wouldn't venture back in after being dressed but the T-shirt found on the sand suggests otherwise.

In this case and the sad tale of two young boys who lost their lives at Belwood Lake Conservation Area last month, a lack of familiarity with the potential dangers of the water and a lack of any self-saving training may have been key factors. Calvin Le, 7, and Larry Le, 9 died after three brothers rushed into the water and all three got into trouble.

It seems that all of these young children had little exposure to swimming and a school-based, mandatory swimming and lifesaving program may well have made the difference.

- - -
Sunday, while at a family cottage near Meaford, I plopped down on a comfortable lounger beside my wife who was camped out in a hammock. It had been a long night and an early morning and I could feel my eyelids starting grow heavy. But I saw her eyes closing so I sat upright and fixed my eyes on the sandy shore where my four-year-old daughter scooped sand into a pail with on old plastic spoon.

My nap can wait I said to myself, fighting off the urge to let down my guard. I needed to see her and be there the moment she got in too far.

She didn't.

But I slept well that night - something that won't come easily for the families drawn unexpectedly into these tragedies.

Larry Culham is managing editor for The Sun. Your comments and feedback are welcome at