'Welcome to the islands' could become local saying

[attach]5833[/attach]Move over Toronto Islands. A new tourist destination may be coming to our waterfront.

The city is looking into building a group of islands at the mouth of the Humber River that could provide west-end residents and wildlife with an escape from their urban environment, according to Toronto Water’s general manager Lou Di Gironimo.

“At this point in time, what we envision is something like a passive recreational use,” he said. “You could connect the little islands with little bridges or pedestrian paths.

“Also, once you build them, you can develop an excellent fishery as well. We could improve our fishery habitat in that area.”

In early April, city council agreed to an environmental assessment that will look into the impacts of the project in Humber Bay and a similar project in Ashbridges Bay. The idea behind the project would be to use excavated earth or “fill” from various construction developments, and possibly the Crosstown LRT project, to create the islands in Lake Ontario.

“That’s some of the assessment as well; how can we lower the cost of constructing this by accepting clean fill?” Di Gironimo said. “You can charge to dump it in that location. It’s a double benefit.”

Another benefit of having the islands, Di Gironimo said, would likely be increased water quality at Sunnyside Beach. According to readings posted on the city’s website, Sunnyside consistently has the worst water of any of Toronto’s beaches.

Di Gironimo said the poor water quality is due to Sunnyside’s close proximity to the mouth of the Humber River. Toronto and Region Conservation Authority Humber watershed specialist, Gary Wilkins, said the river is full of various contaminants.

“There’s no question that the water has its water quality problems in the Humber watershed,” said Wilkins, who states he is neutral about the Humber islands project at this point. “That’s the results of a lot of things, it’s road run off, it’s illegal dumping, it’s spills — it’s all sorts of things.”

Having the Humber Islands built to the east of the river’s mouth would create a barrier between it and the beach.

“In order to prevent the river from impacting those beaches, the concept was you need to push the plume out further into the lake and you can do that with this deflector arm,” Di Gironimo said.

Although the environmental assessment has been approved, don’t expect to see the islands anytime soon. Di Gironimo said while there is a good chance they will eventually be built, it would take more than four years to complete the study and another 10–15 years just to create the islands if the project gets the go-ahead.

“I’d say there’s a good chance we could get something like that because we would use clean fill from construction,” he said. “They’re all longer term plans. They require lots of money and many years to construct but we’ve got to start somewhere so we’re starting with the studies.”