smalls creek

Metrolinx faces backlash after starting controversial construction in Toronto ravine

As Metrolinx forges ahead on its contentious Lakeshore East rail corridor expansion this week, the head of the regional transit agency has had to release a letter to the public responding to backlash for cutting through the environmentally sensitive Small's Creek ravine.

Residents, political figures, community groups and more have long rallied against aspects the project, asking Metrolinx to amend its work plans to help preserve the forested area south of Danforth between Coxwell and Woodbine.

Though the transportation body eventually vowed to take in more community input and better work with stakeholders, it seems that swaths of 100-year-old trees are currently in the process of being removed and wetlands disturbed nonetheless, to the dismay of locals.

Community action groups are calling the agency out for the "irreversible damage" and a "total lack of genuine community engagement," telling the CBC on Tuesday that Metrolinx is not abiding by a council motion seeking alternative proposals for how the work could be completed.

Promises to create a working group to restore the area never came to fruition, and community engagement meetings were cancelled. On Friday, the transportation body brought in excavators to clear parts of the area to build a new retaining wall and replace a collapsed water culvert.

The new letter from President and CEO Phil Verster assures residents that Metrolinx has indeed "reduced the scale of vegetation removal and has committed further restoration efforts," all the while appreciating community input.

"Metrolinx recognizes the Small's Creek ravine as a special place and respects its environmental significance to the community. 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 writes.

But, he also notes that the agency is indeed going with its original method of construction — which he says "continues to have the least impact on the ravine" — and will not heed requests to build a pedestrian walkway, which would only require the removal of more trees.

The construction footprint has been reduced to save 60 additional trees, with plans to plant 2,000 more as a result of the fervent public response. The agency will also re-establish a walking path in the ravine when all is said and done, again, " in response to the specific request by the local community."

But, people are still up in arms about the onset of the work, claiming that progress was due to be halted until a better restoration plan, at the very least, was agreed upon.

It was also only days ago that city council unanimously passed its motion requesting Metrolinx provide more options for cutting down on the destruction to the natural space.

Metrolinx says that despite the ongoing work, it is working closely with the city and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to "refine our restoration plan to significantly increase tree and vegetation planting to the most impacted areas."

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