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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Metrolinx to cut down thousands of trees in Don Valley for Ontario Line

Just weeks after waging a high-profile court battle to decide the fate of several trees at Osgoode Hall, Metrolinx said it will cut down thousands more in the Don Valley to make room for the new Ontario Line, a move environmentalists are calling short-sighted.

The provincial transit agency said work crews will start cutting down 2,787 trees in phases along the Don Valley this month as part of the construction of the northern section of the 15.6-kilometre Ontario Line. The areas where the trees will be removed include the Don Valley crossing just south of the planned Thorncliffe Park station, the Walmsley Brook Crossing and an area just south of the future Flemingdon Park station.

Metrolinx said about 700 of the trees to be removed are invasive or “disease-prone,” including Norway maple, Manitoba maple, white mulberry, black locust and Russian olive. More tree removals may be necessary as work progresses.

Metrolinx felled trees at Osgoode, Moss Park

The latest announcement comes just days after a rare about-face that saw the provincial agency move a planned GO layover facility from the Don Valley just north of the Prince Edward viaduct to a “light industrial area” near York Mills Road and Leslie Street.

It also follows Metrolinx’s cutting down of several dozen trees to make way for the new Moss Park station, and after weeks of protracted court proceedings over its plans to fell 11 trees at Osgoode Hall.

The decision to remove Toronto’s trees to make way for the public transit project also comes just months after city council voted to accelerate the city’s drive to become carbon neutral by 2040 — a plan that includes increasing the city’s tree canopy by 40 per cent.

Environmentalists question lack of consultation

Local environmentalists question the provincial agency’s approach to the latest phase of the project.

“Metrolinx should have consulted with the community and looked at a restoration plan before they went ahead with this destruction,” said Floyd Ruskin, founder of A Park for All, an advocacy group for Toronto’s green spaces. “There are ways to open up a dialogue with the community, minimize the amount of destruction that takes place … There should have been more consultation. But that’s not the way Metrolinx works.

“If they had provided the community with a restoration plan, reviewed by independent arborists and professionals, we probably could have saved some of those many trees.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Toronto said the city is “aware of the local community’s desire to protect parkland and recreational spaces.”

Metrolinx is expected to restore areas impacted by construction within the Ravine and Natural Feature Protection limits to a “naturalized condition,” including replanting trees, according to the city statement.

“Where tree planting cannot be accommodated on site,” it said, “alternative locations in proximity to the project will be assessed.”

Metrolinx to replant trees

In a statement to the Star, Metrolinx said Monday the tree removal will begin as early as March 10.

“When trees do need to come down, we plant one to 50 new trees based on the size and location of the tree being removed,” according to the statement.

Metrolinx confirmed it will work with the city to align with its ravine strategy, including co-ordinated improvements to prevent flooding, manage growth of invasive species and restore wetlands.

Local environmentalists dismissed those plans as inadequate.

“The saplings they’ll bring in don’t provide the same diverse ecosystems as mature trees,” said Ruskin. “Did you ever see a squirrel build its nest in a sapling? Exactly. They build in mature trees … as far as I’m concerned, this plan is greenwashing.”

Tom Connell, lead volunteer for Build the Park, an advocacy group that aims to “protect the Don Valley from industrial development,” acknowledges the benefits of the Ontario Line, but he said “remediation, restoration and compensation” need to be top of mind when considering the transit line’s environmental impact.

Though improvements to Toronto’s transit are necessary, the environmental and community impacts from this construction are too big to ignore, said Connell.

“I think people are looking for Metrolinx to step up,” he said. “The Don Valley is important to so many of us.”


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