Metrolinx has begun to cut down trees in an “ecologically significant” ravine in Toronto despite an outcry from city hall and local residents.
Early Monday afternoon, a chainsaw could be heard in the small ravine known as Small’s Creek, located between Woodbine and Coxwell avenues.
“Much of the damage they are causing, like taking out huge oak trees and exposing the creek and wetlands, is essentially irreversible,” Mitch Robertson, a member of a community action group called Friends of Small’s Creek, told CBC News Monday.
Piles of branches were stacked behind fencing erected by the provincial transit agency on the ravine’s south side on Monday. An excavator was seen removing the trunk of a tree as Metrolinx workers clad in orange jackets walked through the ravine, which is south of Danforth Avenue.
Metrolinx says it is removing the trees to build a retaining wall and new culvert to replace one that has collapsed. The work is part of the Lakeshore East rail corridor expansion project. The agency says it has received approval from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) for construction.
But Friends of Small’s Creek and the local councillor want Metrolinx to pause construction until a restoration plan is developed and the agency engages in what residents consider “genuine” consultation. City council is asking for the ecosystem to be protected before work begins.
Metrolinx broke promises, group says
Metrolinx says it has already consulted residents. But Robertson disagrees, saying there has been a “total lack of genuine community engagement.”
Last March, Metrolinx promised to establish a working group that would include residents and be focused on restoration, as well as a path that loops the ravine.The group was to be set up before construction work got underway, but Robertson says that did not happen.
He says Metrolinx scheduled a meeting with residents in December, cancelled it, then promised to reschedule for January, but didn’t. In January, the agency sent out a flyer that said tree and vegetation removal could begin in February. On Friday, an excavator began bringing down trees on the ravine’s western edge.
City council voted last week to call on Metrolinx to provide alternative proposals to the city that would reduce the project’s impact on the ravine ecosystem.
The motion calls on city staff to ask Metrolinx to provide a “publicly available ecological restoration and stewardship plan” that includes community and TRCA consultation and receives TRCA approval before “beginning any significant early work construction that impacts mature trees and the wooded ravine slope.”
Robertson says Friends of Small’s Creek was “disheartened” to see Metrolinx begin clearing the trees.
There is an obvious need for due diligence and overseeing the work happening in <a href=”https://twitter.com/SmallsCreek?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@SmallsCreek</a> by <a href=”https://twitter.com/GOExpansion?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@GOExpansion</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/Metrolinx?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Metrolinx</a> . The tree clearing seems to be infringing on City property outside of the right of way where current work is confined to! <a href=”https://twitter.com/BradMBradford?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BradMBradford</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/TRCA_HQ?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@TRCA_HQ</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/beyrima?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@beyrima</a> <a href=”https://t.co/sRmfwMwoHv”>pic.twitter.com/sRmfwMwoHv</a>
“We are supportive of the expansion of the rail corridor but insist there are less destructive construction methods which would spare many of the native red oaks on city land which shade the sensitive wetland ecosystem,” the group said in an email on Monday.
“We want the city council motion to be observed and a complete restoration plan to be developed in collaboration with the TRCA, City and the community to exist before any more trees are brought down.”
Ravine ‘socially significant,’ ecologist says
The group says Metrolinx is working in an old-growth urban forest and is concerned the agency is about to clear-cut half of the ravine, resulting in the loss of biodiversity and habitat. The ravine, classified as a deciduous swamp, is part of the Don River watershed and is an actual wetland, according to forest ecologist Eric Davies at the University of Toronto.
“It is highly ecologically significant. And it is highly socially significant because it is ecologically significant,” he said.
Davies says Metrolinx is essentially proposing to remove 50 per cent of the ravine’s forest. That means 50 per cent of the trees, canopy cover, carbon content and biodiversity. Once that is removed, that will allow the sun into the area and eventually dry up the wetland.
“And there’s not a plan to restore that,” he said.
Wait for the crunching sound…these machines are very effective in their capability to erase the tree canopy <a href=”https://twitter.com/BradMBradford?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BradMBradford</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/beyrima?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@beyrima</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/JohnTory?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@JohnTory</a> <a href=”https://t.co/JnuTF0DQDM”>pic.twitter.com/JnuTF0DQDM</a>
Coun. Brad Bradford, who represents Ward 19, Beaches-East York, says Metrolinx should pause construction, come to a public meeting and work with the community on a restoration plan.
“Despite months and months of local advocacy requests for meaningful engagement … what we saw today was a concerning escalation of work on the site,” he said Monday.
“We can’t start taking down trees and clear-cutting a ravine without a plan in place on how we’re going to restore it.”
‘A special place’
Following council’s decision on Thursday, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster issued an open letter to local residents on Friday.
“Metrolinx recognizes the Small’s Creek ravine as a special place and respects its environmental significance to the community,” Verster wrote.
“With this in mind, we have taken several actions in response to community engagement, including reassessing our plans, delaying work, meeting with neighbours and committing to a robust restoration plan.”
Verster has promised the community “a seat at the table” to work on the restoration plan along with the agency, the TRCA and the city.
“We are working closely with our partners at the City of Toronto and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to refine our restoration plan to significantly increase tree and vegetation planting to the most impacted areas,” he wrote.
Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, said in an email on Monday that Metrolinx obtained a permit from the city last year to cut down the trees.
“We paused the construction for many months to do more consultation and we reduced the number of trees to be removed.”