East Toronto residents concerned about Metrolinx’s tree removal plans in the Small’s Creek ravine area have hired an environmental lawyer after what they say has been “one-sided” consultations with the community. Friends of Small’s Creek formed in opposition to Metrolinx’s construction plans along the Lakeshore East line. They’re not against transit expansion, as they’ve said, but they are concerned with the transit agency’s plans to remove 268 trees, many of which are more than 100 years old, from the ravine northeast of Coxwell Avenue and Gerrard Street East. In addition to the tree removal, residents are concerned over the prospect of construction during early morning hours between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. for eight to 10 months. Residents worry that the project will have damaging and lasting effects on the ravine’s health including its wildlife. Metrolinx is trying to add a fourth track on the line, which requires building a retention wall, and a new culvert. It’s part of the transit agency’s plan to accommodate two-way 15-minute service. After hearing initial concerns from Friends of Small’s Creek, Metrolinx hosted a community meeting on Feb. 3, 2021.
After that meeting, when residents were told that trees will have to be removed, group member Michael Terk said it was a “technical meeting and we were told there are no other options.” Then, on March 9, Metrolinx published a blog post on its website responding to the community saying it will plant “up to 2,000 additional trees in the community” to meet its own Vegetation Compensation guidelines.
Metrolinx also mentioned it had awarded the construction contract to LS Lakeshore Contractors and construction was slated to begin in October 2021. Notably, Metrolinx said the 2,000 trees won’t be planted solely in the Small’s Creek ravine. “Metrolinx officials acknowledge only so many trees can go into the ravine itself but say many of the additional 2,000 trees can be planted elsewhere in the community,” the Metrolinx blog article reads. It added that a third-party review by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority said this is the “least intrusive option.” Updates from the Metrolinx blog on Small’s Creek can be found at https://blog.metrolinx.com/tag/smalls-creek/
Friends of Small’s Creek were not impressed by the position taken by Metrolinx. In a rebuke, they wrote the agency “still awarded the contract, despite community concerns.” They say the agency has done little to address concerns of noisy, heavy construction equipment and the removal of trees in the way of the retaining wall. “Metrolinx still wants to focus the discussion on replanting, after clear cutting 150-year-old native trees,” the group wrote. “This does not consider the ecological health of the ravine which includes the understory, the creek, and the wetland complex, and doing so with meaningful Indigenous engagement.” “While Metrolinx says they have been consulting with the community for the past few months, that consultation has been one-sided and only came as a result of our organized and persistent front,” they added. The group is seeking accountability and “real engagement” regarding the transit agency’s construction plans. “We should no longer be forced to file Freedom of Information requests to access their plans for this important green space that is integral to our community,” they wrote. So, they hired a lawyer. Leslieville resident and lawyer David R. Donnelly of Donnelly Law Firm was hired by the group on March 19. The environmental law firm has experience representing public interest groups and community associations in defence of the environment. In an introductory letter, Donnelly wrote “further action is required by the City of Toronto, Toronto Region and Conservation Authority, and Metrolinx, to forge a compromise with residents, which would be preferable to a very public fight over the needless destruction of such a valuable ecological resource within the City of Toronto.” He added that “alternatives to the proposed undertaking have not been properly evaluated as part of the tree cutting permitting process, as required by the City of Toronto’s Municipal Code.” The law firm’s letter concluded: “Metrolinx’s arbitrary refusal to consider an engineered solution to the mass destruction of trees (and the subsequent effect this loss would cause to the creek, flora and fauna, birds and wildlife) could be a violation of the City of Toronto’s tree cutting by-law regarding Ravines and Natural Heritage Features.” Alternative designs, some of which have been proposed by Friends of Small’s Creek, should be considered by the City of Toronto before tree removal is permitted, Donnelly wrote, or the violation of the municipal code could be subject to civil action.
Ali Raza, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Beach Metro News