Small’s Creek update – Metrolinx launches next phase of community consultation on draft restoration plan

Construction began in early 2022 in the Small’s Creek area, alongside the Lakeshore East GO tracks between Woodbine Avenue and Coxwell Avenue. The work is part of the Lakeshore East rail corridor expansion project in Toronto. Metrolinx has worked to minimize tree removals and has been revising the vegetation restoration plan as a direct result of community feedback. As promised, the Small’s Creek community is being asked to participate in a restoration plan working group.

Feedback from the Small’s Creek community is helping shape the vegetation restoration plan, as work continues along the Lakeshore East GO Line between Woodbine and Coxwell avenues.

The community was invited to a recent workshop to provide their input on the draft vegetation restoration plan for the Small’s Creek area.

The City of Toronto, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation (MCFN) are also members of this independently moderated committee, which met yesterday for the first time.

This progress builds on the original restoration plan that was shared with the community in 2020.

For those unfamiliar, a restoration plan outlines what trees, shrubs, and other vegetation will be restored into areas disturbed by construction, and a restoration plan (or funds in lieu of trees that are removed) is a requirement for tree removal permits in the City of Toronto. Metrolinx’s plan will exceed the City of Toronto’s compensation ratios.

Metrolinx says it is committed to minimizing the impact of new and existing GO tracks on the natural environment and working with the community, TRCA and the City of Toronto to ensure the ecosystem remains healthy.

In working with municipalities and conservation authorities, the transit agency says the goal from day one has always been to roll out a replanting strategy that will enhance the health of local ecosystems.

map showing the work zones for the work
Work zones between Woodbine Avenue and Coxwell Avenue highlighted in orange. (Metrolinx image)

Original Vegetation Restoration Plan

In 2020, the original restoration plan was shared with the community.

At that time, 268 trees were identified for removal, and of these, 205 were invasive species.

This is important to note, because an invasive species is an organism that causes ecological or economic harm in a new environment where it is not native. Invasive species are capable of causing extinctions of native plants and animals, reducing biodiversity, competing with native organisms for limited resources, and altering habitats.

Most invasive species in the Smalls Creek area are Manitoba Maple and Norway Maple. A tree replacement value of 355 trees was proposed, which included 262 native trees and 932 shrubs (where 10 shrubs is equal to 1 tree in terms of ecological value).

After hearing from local residents, Metrolinx committed to more plantings and more shade to protect the environment.

In addition, the arborist report at that time had identified the maximum potential number of trees to be removed, not the minimum. As the project progressed, approximately 60 trees were saved.

New Draft Vegetation Restoration Plan

A working draft is being used to continue consultations with the community, Toronto, and Region Conversation Authority (TRCA) and the City of Toronto on replanting.

By working together through meaningful engagement, the goal will be to finalize the plan and move forward with vegetation restoration after construction is complete.

Approximately 200 trees were identified for removal, and of these trees, 80 per cent are on Metrolinx property.

Through the draft restoration plan, Metrolinx says they will revitalize the ecosystem with native vegetation.

The draft plan identifies the number of trees to be compensated as per Metrolinx Vegetation Guideline, which is up to 2,000 trees, exceeding the City of Toronto’s compensation ratio.

This will provide the same ecological services as the approximately 200 trees removed from Williamson Ravine and Merrill Bridge Road Park.

An example of tree planting that Metrolinx has done in the GTA. (Metrolinx image)

Metrolinx is paying for the remaining balance of trees to be planted by TRCA in the same area if possible or in the same watershed on their managed areas.

As the replanted vegetation grows, the environmental benefits will flourish exponentially, allowing the ecosystem to bounce back better than before.

Comparing the different tree compensation guidelines

Metrolinx’s vegetation guidelines calculates the tree compensation based on scientifically matching the ecological benefit of new plantings to the total number of trees removed.

For trees removed from a Designated Natural Area such as Williamson Ravine, the TRCA ecological compensation ratio is applied, which provides replacement plantings based on the diameter of the tree removed, up to 50:1.

The TRCA compensation approach accounts for the present-day ecosystem value of each tree, meaning an environmental calculation determines the equivalent amount of newly planted trees that will absorb the same amount of carbon as a large tree identified for removal.

Though not all replacement trees will fit into the footprint of the Small’s Creek area, there will be far more native trees and shrubs than before, and they will grow into a significant new and native habitat and help restore biodiversity.

Metrolinx has also developed options for using the trees that have been cut down.

Higher value trees are diverted for different purposes including donation to communities, ecological and commercial uses such as local art and habitat restoration projects. Several large red oaks are being donated to the woodworking program at Humber College.

Re-establishing the walking path

Metrolinx understands the dirt path that was organically forged by frequent walks and hikes and is an important path for the neighbourhood.

The existing dirt path will be severed by the new replacement culvert that will be built. The current culvert is in bad shape, having collapsed on the south end and is largely blocked resulting in improper drainage.

At the request of community members, plans to reconnect the path are progressing, and protecting maximum vegetation and shade plantings is a key priority for both Metrolinx and local residents.

Within a natural habitat, it will be equally important to minimize hardscape to avoid removing any further vegetation.

By exploring options with the community, the City of Toronto, and TRCA it will be easier to determine what is practical and feasible. Although the walking path is a separate item, a solution will be required to help finalize the vegetation restoration plan.

Metrolinx proposed a draft alignment for the new path to start discussions with all parties.

The new culvert will improve drainage and reduce flooding. All renderings are concepts and subject to change during implementation. (Metrolinx image)

Next Steps

Metrolinx’s community engagement team will set up four more vegetation restoration workshops to continue working together with the City of Toronto, TRCA, MCFN and residents.

The goal of the workshops is to finalize the vegetation restoration plan and land on a resolution for the walking path to start replanting as soon as construction is complete.

Local residents and the community at large have consistently shared their support for transit expansion, and the work being done today to build on the existing GO line is an efficient approach to using what is already there.

This means transit customers will get even more service on the Lakeshore East GO Line, less cars on the road, and more time with the people that matter to them.

This work is part of the GO Expansion program that will bring cleaner, quieter, and more frequent service to those who rely on GO Transit.

For any questions or more information on the draft restoration plan on vegetation, contact TorontoEast@metrolinx.com

Stay informed with regular updates on upcoming work by registering for newsletters at metrolinx.com/subscribe or follow @GOExpansion on Twitter for the latest progress posts.

Story by Teresa Ko, Metrolinx communications senior advisor