It isn’t a bit unusual these days for Metrolinx to get people outraged about the way it operates. Having managed to raise quite a few hackles earlier this year when the transit agency proposed the construction of a planned six-station light rail line through Toronto’s Old North district, it turns out that the most recent political controversy is more local residents’ delight – not controversy.
The current issue concerns the removal of beavers from the wetlands near Front Street, a rejuvenation of the natural amenities in an area well within the bounds of the largely residential, city-controlled adjacent Greenbelt. Metrolinx-approved the excavations last October, but the public is still incensed, with residents in the area taking up the cause, bringing the issue to court. With the cleanup complete, three beavers, currently trapped in the construction site, have escaped and disappeared from the pond.
Local online commentors have reacted strongly to the public outcry, though many join the rail agency’s argument that the beavers are polluting the wetlands area and the road base is potentially poisonous. (Have you ever heard of $0.05? Just saying.)
Meghan L. Cho/Reuters
“These beavers are very much part of the local ecology here,” commuter Kim Drewniak told Global News, “and so my point of view is, once you actually drive down there with your car and you’re pumping water through it, with everything that’s contaminated and you’re causing that pollution, and then you have these wonderful freshwater springs right underneath your feet, just think how much better off our neighbourhood is.”
John Kempf, principal biologist with the OPP Forestry Service in Niagara Region, says that while Metrolinx has acknowledged that the site has dangerous levels of arsenic, cyanide and hydrocarbons, it’s imperative that the ponds are cleaned first to be sure. “We’ve got to save this ecosystem first before we worry about beavers,” he says.
The urban nature of the transportation network is one of the key factors in compelling residents to take on this case. Even amid the barrage of smelly announcements and frustrating sound bites, the original sense of crisis felt around the railway was grounded in the fact that this area is heavily populated and the problem is only expected to continue. The nature-loving online activists are putting aside their worries about individual road project and are urging public employees to listen to them. They are putting their trust in someone – Metrolinx – to protect them. If the cyclists, snowboarders and drivers concerned about dirty roads or the local squirrel, bird or bird watcher are deemed “beloved” then it’s likely that Metrolinx is willing to come to terms with the unpleasant need to repair the natural capital of the region.
So what next? It’s true that suburban streets around Toronto have developed from village-centric plans and quickly run down. However, without the supportive infrastructure of railways or highways, an urban future full of beautiful green spaces is impossible. Streets are built, the pollution and traffic is produced and it’s on to the next move – not one that causes as much outrage as the current removal of beavers.