Toronto

Huge Metrolinx expansion spells big trouble for Small's Creek, local residents fear

Residents in the area of Woodbine and Danforth avenues are worried that hundreds of trees will be clear cut, ravine pathways will be lost and a tranquil creek destroyed when Metrolinx widens a rail corridor through their community. And they say, answers are difficult to get.

Metrolinx GO expansion will have big impact on ravine in Danforth-Woodbine area, some worry

Small's Creek Ravine in the Woodbine and Danforth area is green space that's well used by the local community. Now residents worry hundreds of trees and walking trails will be lost once the rail corridor is widened to make way for a GO Train track expansion. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

Neighbours in the areas of Danforth and Woodbine avenues fear a tiny oasis of greenspace in the city will be lost when Metrolinx widens the rail corridor to expand its GO train service along Lakeshore East.

Small's Creek flows through the community from the northeast through a steep ravine between the tracks and homes south through a culvert, and continues on southwest through the Williamson Park Ravine.

"This is more than our backyard, it's public space used by the community," said Michael Terk, who lives nearby. "There will be heavy machinery all around us, there's a dewatering plan for the creek."

It's all part of major infrastructure improvements that will lay the groundwork for increased two-way all-day GO service and the eventual electrification of the Lakeshore East line running from Union Station east to Oshawa.

Michael Terk is one of many concerned residents who say Metrolinx has not been forthcoming with plans they have for the ravine. The group filed a freedom of information request to get access to the restoration plan. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

Communities up and down the rail corridor will be impacted by construction projects in the coming years, including the addition of a fourth rail line to accommodate more frequent trains.

In the stretch along the Small's Creek Ravine it will mean the construction of a three-metre high retaining wall so the rail corridor can be widened. That will mean the destruction of hundreds of trees, which the community group Smallscreek.ca would like to see avoided.

"We are not against a fourth track. We want public transit. We want electrified trains running in and out of the city as much as possible," said Terk, the group's founder. "I have faith that our engineers in Ontario can figure out how to do a fourth track without clear cutting every tree we see here."

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins says the community has known about plans for the ravine for years and have been consulted at length. (Angelina King/CBC)

The group would like the start of construction, which could happen as early as next month, paused until their concerns can be addressed.

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins says it's in everyone's interest to get the expansion project underway.

"I think that's what everyone wants as well is to move ahead with building transit. Delays cause everyone angst across the city and the GO expansion will be a game changer," said Aikins.

She says the contract to regrade the earth slope on the north side of the track, build a retaining wall to secure the slope and replace a culvert has yet to be awarded.

This is the type of construction that could be used to build a retaining wall in Small's Creek Ravine. (Metrolinx)

But, she says, Metrolinx chose a retaining wall that would minimize the number of trees removed and that without the wall, the slope would have to be graded further out into the ravine.

Replacing the culvert, which has become submerged, will improve drainage, reduce flooding, and provide a way for wildlife to cross beneath the tracks, Aikins says. She also says the bridge across the creek would not be touched and a landscape architect has been retained to design the restoration plan for the area.

But other residents say the plans for the ravine took them completely by surprise. Some only learned of the plan to remove trees and build a wall in the last week and a half, when the Lakeshore East Community Advisory Committee, a local residents group that has been meeting with Metrolinx, distributed flyers about the upcoming work.

NDP MPP Rima Berns‑McGown says Metrolinx has a reputation of 'faux consulting' to roll over the concerns of communities along the routes of its expansion plans. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

The local MPP Rima Berns‑McGown( NDP-Beaches–East York) says that Metrolinx has not fully consulted or communicated with the community properly.

"Metrolinx has a terrible record of listening and really meaningfully consulting," she said. "They do a very good job of faux consulting in order to obfuscate and silence community pushback."

But Aikins says Metrolinx began engaging with the community as early as November 2016 holding, several community meetings and public consultations. A final environmental project report was released in September 2017 and a community walkabout was held last year.

The group Smallscreek.ca filed a freedom of information request to get access to this restoration plan. (smallscreek.ca)

But Cleo Buster, who lives a short walk away and is an architect, says the community still doesn't know what the ravine will look like, since Metrolinx has been slow to share those documents. The group had to file a freedom of information request with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to gain access to engineering plans for the area.

"We only just received the restoration plan," she said. "The drawings were stamped last year, so just the fact that they haven't been shared earlier is really frustrating."

Cleo Buster lives in the area and is a trained architect. She hopes engineers will come up with alternatives to what Metrolinx has planned to widen the rail corridor that won't impact the creek. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

She hopes the group will get more documents, so other geo-engineers can see if there are other options to clear cutting the embankment.

"It's sad. We have so few of these left in the city, that's such a great space and they are so highly used."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.

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