Residents glad Metrolinx to work with community on plans that will affect Small’s Creek Ravine

Some residents in Toronto’s east end say Metrolinx is finally consulting them about the impact of a GO expansion project that will affect a green space near their homes known as Small’s Creek Ravine.

The residents, who live in the area of Danforth and Woodbine avenues, will be invited to join a working group set up by Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, before the project gets underway in their area.

That working group will focus on the future of a path that provides a loop of the ravine.

Metrolinx plans to widen a railway embankment to support a four-track, electrified Lakeshore East line. Trees will be removed from Small’s Creek Ravine to enable crews to build a retaining wall and a new culvert as part of the project. The ravine, much loved by neighbourhood families, is tucked behind Copeland Avenue, between Coxwell and Woodbine Avenues, south of the Danforth. 

“We’re optimistic. The fact that they’re now suggesting they’re going to include us in the discussions is a step forward,” Mitch Robertson, a resident and a member of Save Small’s Creek group, said on Sunday.

“I think Metrolinx has not done a good job of communicating with any community groups so far. However, we do hope that this is a turning point. We want to be there from the beginning to discuss how this can actually be done so that everybody wins.”

Robertson said he doesn’t think Metrolinx’s latest plan offers any concessions, but the group is interested in presenting its ideas with the aim of preserving as much nature as possible. He noted that the group is not opposed to a fourth track or additional train service.

Mitch Robertson, a resident and a member of Save Small’s Creek group, says: ‘I think Metrolinx has not done a good job of communicating with any community groups so far. However, we do hope that this is a turning point. We want to be there from the beginning to discuss how this can actually be done so that everybody wins.’ (Keith Burgess/CBC)

In the fall, residents had raised concerns about the expansion project’s environmental impact, saying it means the loss of 268 trees because of clear cutting that will occur on either side of the ravine.

Residents have tied ribbons around the trees to be cut down as a visible reminder of what will be lost. 

There is concern about the impact on the ravine’s wildlife, local ecosystem and walking path. Residents believe Metrolinx did not consider neighbourhood use of the ravine by residents, community and school groups when it drew up its plans.

“There’s a limited amount of space like this in the city,” Robertson said.

Metrolinx to plant 2,000 more trees in community

In an email to CBC News on Friday, Metrolinx says it has decided to add about 2,000 more trees to the community and to form the working group that will include residents, the city and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. That working group will determine a “potential solution” for reconnecting the path on the north side of the ravine that will be severed once the culvert is in place.

Currently, the path on the north side connects with wooden steps on either side of the ravine and to the path on the south side that cuts through the often muddy bottom of the ravine.

Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, says: ‘We recognize the importance of the ravine and the natural refuge it offers residents and families. We will be restoring and enhancing the area with native species that will provide a better functioning ravine feature for both the community and wildlife that use it.’ (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for Metrolinx, said in the email that construction work in the Small’s Creek area will not begin until October 2021. Construction initially was set to begin in January.

“In the coming weeks, Metrolinx will work with the contractor and community leaders to minimize tree removals as much as possible. A site tour will be held with the contractor to walk them through the ravine and talk them through what has been heard,” Aikins said in the email.  

“We recognize the importance of the ravine and the natural refuge it offers residents and families. We will be restoring and enhancing the area with native species that will provide a better functioning ravine feature for both the community and wildlife that use it.”

Aikins said Metrolinx’s restoration plan for the ravine includes a variety of plantings of native vegetation. There will be a minimum of 260 trees, 932 shrubs and 4,000 smaller plants planted to support naturalization, she said. 

“As many as possible of the approximately 2,000 trees Metrolinx is committed to planting will be in the Small’s Creek area, in partnership with the TRCA and City of Toronto,” Aikins said.  

Majority of trees to be cut down are invasive species

Arborists consulted by Metrolinx have found that the ravine has many invasive species, which are crowding out the native vegetation and reducing the habitat that supports local wildlife.

Small’s Creek Ravine, much loved by neighbourhood families, is tucked behind Copeland Avenue, between Coxwell and Woodbine Avenues, south of the Danforth. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Of the 268 trees to be removed, 205 are invasive species, including Manitoba maple and Norway maple, she said. “The planting of native trees and other vegetation will help to restore the ecological function of the ravine,” she added. 

“If not all of the 2,000 additional trees can be planted in Small’s Creek due to space, we’re committed to planting them elsewhere in the community. Places like parkettes, the nearby waterfront, and school fields are all locations up for discussion. In the coming months Metrolinx will be reaching out to the community to figure out where these trees can be planted and come up with some creative ideas for distribution,” she said.  

In an interview, Aikins said of its latest plan: “We took that back to our arborists and to our contractor, and said: ‘Let’s try and do better.’ We’ve come up with an alternative — it’s not perfect for them, I know — but it’s a better alternative with more trees.”

Resident says appreciation for ravine has grown

Celeste Shirley, a resident whose property borders the ravine, said the popularity of the ravine has grown since residents raised concerns and since the pandemic started. She said foot traffic in the ravine has increased by about 20 per cent in recent months.

“It’s brought a lot of people to the ravine. I’m hearing more children there. There’s an appreciation of the ravine that wasn’t there before,” Shirley said.

“If they take out the path at the bottom of the ravine, we will only be able to go across the top,” she added, saying that the loss of part of a loop through the forested area will be significant. 

Coun. Brad Bradford, who represents Ward 19, Beaches-East York, said the local residents have made a difference by speaking out.

“We’ve seen the power of community-led change here. The folks at the Save Small’s Creek group have really rallied to make sure their voices are heard, and they have forced themselves to the table,” he said.

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