Monday, July 31, 2017

A Glimmer of Hope in a Day of Disappointment



























Delegations
Friday July 28th was a disappointing day for the east segment of the Scarborough Bluffs and Grey Abbey Beach, also known as Toronto longest natural shoreline, situated between Guildwood and Highland Creek. 

As concerned members of the community, a number of us took time from our busy schedules and dedicated the day to presenting our delegations to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority board members with the hope of shedding light on what's at stake if the Scarborough Waterfront Project goes through as planned.

We were allotted 5 minutes to present our views, not a second more. How can one possibly encapsulate such a complex project and dynamic natural environment into such a short segment of time. Consider that the TRCA has just spent the past 3 years and over $2 million presenting the project to the public and we were being given 5 minutes to present our views. It was an impossible challenge.

As a group, and individually, we have all been working tirelessly over the past year advocating for the preservation of the natural shoreline, so we were up for the challenge. In preparation and as a strategy, we decided that we would each tackle an aspect of the project in hope that our presentations, when seen one after another would present a strong case for reconsidering such unnecessary destruction to a beautiful heritage shoreline. It seemed so obvious to us. We felt hopeful.

Friday morning was a bright sunny day and knowing we put together a strong and clear case, a few of us shared our optimism as we started out. Once we began shuttling into our cars for the long drive across the top of the city, joining the endless stream of morning commuters along the 401, then making a series of lefts and rights to our final destination in Vaughan, my optimism had faded. 

Upon arriving and after an exchange of only a few words with the waterfront program manager Nancy Gaffney, I knew we were doomed. 

I asked Nancy why the meeting was being held so far from the city, noting the carbon footprint of over a hundred people driving to the meeting and she answered without hesitation, and in a very matter-of-fact tone "since most of our board members live in the 905 region, if the meeting were held south of the 401, then none of them would show up". 

This fact pretty much says it all and I probably don't need to say much more about how the board meeting went. 

After our presentations and during the question and answer period between the board members and Nancy Gaffney, it became evident that most board members knew very little about the project study area. They didn't even seem to know about the shoreline at stake or the areas of the bluffs that would be negatively impacted by the project. They had no sense of the context or the history. 

They also seemed to know very little about the importance of natural areas in dense urban environments and what a valuable asset a natural shoreline is. I would like to say that they know very little about the stresses of living in a continuously growing and expanding city like Toronto, but that would be false. They do know. And that is why they do not live there.

So unfortunately, the future of Toronto's longest natural shoreline has just been determined by a group of people that know little, and care even less, about it. 



Where There is Hope
There was a very surprising turn of events leading up to this board meeting. An ongoing part of our work has been meeting with councillors about the project and sharing the concerns of the public with them. 

A few days prior to this board meeting, a couple members of our group had a very successful meeting with Councillor Glenn DeBaeremaker and as a direct result of that meeting, he prepared an amendment to the Scarborough Waterfront Project, which he presented at the board meeting. 

His amendment was voted on and while it was not passed, it was hopeful to see that it was supported by other members of the board. To name a few of his supporters, we were pleased to hear the concerns of Jennifer McKelvie, Michael Ford, and Jack Ballinger and their show of support for the recommendations that Councillor Glenn DeBaeremaker put forward.



Next Steps
Now that this project has been approved by the TRCA Board Members, the next step will be a vote by all Toronto City Councillors. I would like to take this time to raise the point that it was suggested by some board members themselves, that this approval was really about them 'approving the process' and 'moving forward to the next step', that in fact, all board members did not support all the details of this project. 

In fact, local councillor Paul Ainslie even said himself that if the board draws too much attention to the details, that City Councillors will never approve the project. He expressed concern that it was difficult enough to get the $2 million for the Environmental Assessment, that the best approach is to approve the project now and worry about the details later. His sentiment was reflected in the actions of a number of other board members. There was a general atmosphere of impatience with the whole process. Board members wanted to get things over with, and move on, and not be held up by the finer details of the project. 

My understanding of the next step involved is that once a draft version of the Environmental Assessment is complete, it will be submitted to the City for review. I believe this will take place in the fall of 2017.



Clarification
Before going any further, I would like to clarify what our concerns have been. As respectable and active members of the community and the City of Toronto, our concerns have been valid, and reasonable and they are concerns that address the city of Toronto as a whole. 

Our concerns are the following:

- we object to a waterfront project that obliterates the natural sand beach and shoreline. 

- we object to a waterfront project that does not allow for access to the water, when it is currently already there. 

- we object to a project that is based on ten years of continuous construction debris being dumped into the lake.


To clarify any misconception, I say yes to a waterfront that is accessible and one that is accessible to all. I would love nothing more that to walk along this beautiful beach with others and see many people from all of Toronto enjoy access to the wonderful fresh water of Lake Ontario. Actually, many people currently do and each time I visit the beach to reflect on the area and the impact of this project I meet people from all over the city that have come here to stroll the beach and feel the waves and water around their feet!

We are asking the TRCA to find a way to link up their waterfront project but please do not destroy the natural features of this area in the process!

I would like to take this moment to acknowledge the names of the dedicated, caring and hard-working people that showed up on Friday to present their delegations to the TRCA Board Members:

Roy and Denise Wright, 
Sherri and Michael Lange, 
Jane Fairburn, 
Steve Smith, 
Nicole and Aidan Conboy, 
Nadia Baer, 
Jeff Green, 
Gerard T. Arbour, 
and Penn Penev 

Your delegations were intelligent, informative, and insightful and they were also very moving and passionate. I am grateful to have worked with you all on this project and even more grateful to now consider you as friends.



Closing
For my delegation, I chose to create a video to share an up-close visual experience of the Grey Abbey shoreline. The focus of the video is calling attention to sand as a natural resource. 

An unfortunate outcome of this project, if it goes through as planned will be that 1 km of a naturally occurring sand beach will be buried under thousands of truckloads of construction debris over the course of a ten year period. 


The shoreline will forever be altered, and the sand will be lost. The outcome will be a slick, armour-rock lined, paved asphalt road and there will be no access into the water.



Enjoy the video:


Grey Abbey Shoreline 













Final Call to Action

If you agree with our concerns and would like to see the natural shoreline of Grey Abbey preserved, then please speak to your local City Councillor. 

Direct them to the website for more information:


Let them know about the area and that they will have an opportunity to vote on it this fall. Encourage your councillor to be a leader in conservation and preserving what precious natural areas we have left. 











.