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Feverish efforts to stem flooding on Toronto Islands as wind storm approaches

Man-made barriers set up to prevent flooding on Ward's Island. 680 NEWS/Momin Quresh

Around-the-clock efforts continue on the Toronto Islands as city staff and residents desperately try to stem ever-rising water levels in the face of an impending wind storm.

In an update Wednesday afternoon from Ward’s Island, Coun. Joe Cressy maintained that the Islands would remain open for the summer season, despite being besieged by ominously-rising waters that have breached sandbagging efforts in some parts of the urban archipelago.

“This is a distressing time for island residents and island business, there’s no sugar coating it,” Cressy said. “But unlike 2017 when we were forced to close down the Islands, we are going to make sure they stay open and safe.”

Cressy said 15,000 sand bags are already in place, along with metre bags, 30 sump pumps, and aqua dams.

While Cressy considers those efforts crucial, he also sees them as a band-aid fix to the larger issue of climate change, and he’s hoping a report due for publication on June 21 will lead the city towards more sustainable solutions.

The city commissioned the report on long-term climate change adaptation and resilience measures with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) after the devastating Islands flooding in 2017 that shuttered the popular tourist destination and caused extensive property damage to homes and businesses.

“In an era of escalating climate change … an annual sandbagging effort is not and cannot be the solution,” Cressy said.

“As the local councillor I am not satisfied with having my residents every year going out and sandbagging their front doors in order to keep their properties and their friends and families safe.

“We see that climate change is real, it is happening daily and it’s not just Toronto,” he added. “But if we don’t get in front of it the water will consume us.”

The anxiety on the Islands will only increase over the coming days, with powerful winds expected Thursday that could produce large waves.

“We are anticipating a major storm system coming through with large waves and wind action,” said James Dann, manager of Waterfront Parks.

“That northwest wind is particularly problematic for Algonquin Island, so we have more metre bags being put out today.”

Dann said a section of Hanlan’s Island has been closed after water filled the roadway. All ferry traffic is currently taking place on Ward’s Island only.

Despite the impending storm and rising water levels, he remains optimistic.

“Centre Island is predominantly dry, Centreville (amusement park) is opened, the restaurant’s been able to opened,” he said. “Our major concern over the next 48 hours will be the island residents, then we will focus back onto the roads to make sure we are able to stay open and operational for the remainder of 2019.”

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Officials confident Toronto Islands will remain open this summer after flooding