FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Why is construction causing odours?

As part of this project, we are excavating contaminated soil, as well as peat and other organic material found in the soils. This creates some odour.

What am I actually smelling?

Soil and groundwater in the Port Lands contain varying concentrations of metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs), petroleum hydrocarbons (PHCs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These may be released during excavation. Some of these compounds are detectable as odour. Excavation in areas with the highest contamination and the most odorous soil started in March 2019 and is slated to be completed in fall 2020, after which time the odour caused by construction should be less of a concern.

There are also ongoing industrial processes elsewhere in the Port Lands. These industrial activities outside of our construction site also produce odours. For this reason, our Odour Monitoring Plan includes monitoring odour at locations upwind and downwind of our construction site. If air becomes more odourous as it passes through our site, we know that it is likely caused by our construction activities.

What are PAHs, PHCs, and VOCs, and where did they come from?

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs), petroleum hydrocarbons (PHCs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are contaminants in the soil as a result of decades of heavy industrial uses in the Port Lands.

Some examples of materials containing PAHs are coal and old heating oil. They are also commonly used in the manufacturing of asphalt shingles and other bituminous products like road asphalt. The Port Lands was home to a coal storage yard, as well as factories and oil refineries which are a likely source of this contamination.

Some examples of materials containing PHCs are gasoline, diesel, heavy oils, kerosene and other fuels. These PHCs were left by the oil refineries and fuel storage facilities that existed in the Port Lands for much of the 1900s.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are compounds released into the air from industrial processes such as burning fuels and plastics manufacturing and products like industrial solvents, chemical degreasers, and consumer products like cigarettes and plastics. The many industrial uses and poor-quality materials used to create the Port Lands are the main contributor to VOCs.

These compounds are not unique to the Port Lands and can be found elsewhere in Toronto’s downtown.

Is it safe?

While odours resulting from our work may not be pleasant, they’re not necessarily linked to air quality or health concerns. Humans can detect the smell of certain compounds at very low concentrations. Naphthalene, for example, is detectable at a very low level – it’s a smell often associated with mothballs. While it’s detectable at low levels, it would take a much higher concentration to negatively impact air quality.

Air quality is being continuously monitored at locations around the perimeter of the site, both upwind and downwind of our work. Additional real-time point source monitoring is being done on-site using a handheld photo-ionization detector (PID). The threshold for this project has been set at a conservative level to be an indicator and is not related to air quality or health concerns. If the measured difference in total Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) between upwind and downwind readings exceeds project thresholds, the project team will collect a sample to conduct additional testing to ensure individual VOCs are less than levels set by the Provincial Ambient Air Quality Criteria.

What are you doing to control odour?

Our Odour Management Plan includes a monitoring program to continually assess conditions within and at the boundary of the site.

We have measures in place to mitigate odour as much as possible. This includes changing work practices, stopping work, perimeter odour socks, using odour neutralizing misters and, if necessary, odour suppressing sprays and foams.

When we receive complaints about odour, we react immediately and deploy our air monitoring specialist to the location to assess the situation.

I’m smelling a strong odour, yet your monitoring results shows no or little detection of odour. Why is that?

While we take all measures possible to control odour, the excavation process will inevitably cause some unpleasant odours. For many people, odour is detectable below our trigger thresholds.

How are you measuring odours?

We use a nasal ranger olfactometer to measure existing odour in and around the construction site. Specialized technicians who use the olfactometer are trained to detect both the level and quality of odour.

What if your monitoring shows odour is too high?

We can manage odour in a number of ways, including minimizing our work area, applying odour reducing sprays and foams to materials that may be causing the odour. We are continuously improving our control measures on-site. Frequent and timely input from the local community will help us remedy any issues as quickly as possible.

What if your monitoring shows air quality is negatively impacted?

If air quality exceeds our criteria, we will immediately investigate to determine the potential source, review the controls in place at the construction site and implement mitigation measures. We can also stop, change or slow down work as a mitigation measure. There have been a few readings that show increased levels of certain VOCs during excavation. When this happens, we take corrective actions and have increased our field monitoring at these locations. While these VOCs can also be present in ambient air, we are still reporting to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks and Toronto Public Health. We continue to implement and adapt our approach to address new and daily site conditions.

What about affordable housing?

Right now, the construction in the Port Lands is part of the Flood Protection project which will protect a large area of downtown Toronto from flooding. In doing so, we’ll create Villiers Island and a new mouth for the Don River. The flood protection project does not include any development or buildings. When it is finished in 2024 development can start on Villiers Island.

The plan for Villiers Island is to build a mix of affordable and family-friendly housing. To achieve that goal, the Villiers Island Precinct Plan (adopted by Toronto City Council in 2017) includes an affordable housing strategy. At minimum, 20% of housing built on public land will be permanent and long-term affordable rental housing. You can find the Villiers Island precinct plan here.

What is a 1 in 100 year storm?

We often reference a “100 year flood” or “100 year storm.” What does this mean? Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has a useful glossary of terms that you can access here. TRCA defines the 100 year flood as a flood, based on an analysis of precipitation, snow melt, or a combination thereof, having a return period of 100 years on average, or having a 1% chance of occurring or being exceeded in any given year.

The Port Lands hasn't flooded before, so why do we need to protect this area?

Ontario’s flood protection standards are among the most stringent in the world. The area at risk of flooding in the Port Lands and eastern downtown is in the Regulatory Flood Plain of the Don River. This means that during a Regulatory Storm, the area would take on floodwaters from the Don River. The Province of Ontario defines a Regulatory Storm as the 1 in 100 year storm or the most severe storm to ever hit the region (whichever is the larger event). For Toronto, that is 1954’s Hurricane Hazel. A common misconception about flood risk is that because an area hasn’t flooded before it won’t flood in the future. When Hurricane Hazel hit, the most intense rainfall occurred over the Humber River, not the Don. Had it centered around the Don watershed instead, which isn’t that far away from the Humber watershed, we would have seen significant flooding in this area. While the risk of a Hurricane Hazel type storm falling over the Don watershed is small, the consequences of such an event would be severe. Therefore, it’s important that riverine flood protection is implemented here.

Where do I go for the latest project updates?

Find the latest construction updates and notices here. You can also see the overall construction schedule here.

Look for news about upcoming meetings here.

Read the latest Waterfront Toronto newsletter, with updates on this and other projects, here.

Where can I find details about planning in the Port Lands and future development?

Once we complete construction on the Port Lands Flood Protection project in 2024, a new river valley will run through the Port Lands. This natural landscape will become home to diverse plants and wildlife. Land that was once unusable and under the threat of flooding will be ready to transform into complete communities and thriving businesses.

Any development that takes place will be guided by the Port Lands Planning Framework, approved by Toronto City Council in 2017.

Planning initiatives for the Port Lands have been underway for over a decade, and have resulted in not only the Planning Framework, but a number of other key studies and plans that will guide development. Read more about those plans here.

What is this project's connection to the Sidewalk Toronto (Quayside) project?

The approach for this project was set through the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection Environmental Assessment (EA). That EA was approved by the Province of Ontario in 2015 – it won’t change. You can find more details here about what we’re building as part of Port Lands Flood Protection. We’ve now started construction on this project and it is scheduled to be complete in 2024.

Waterfront Toronto selected Sidewalk Labs as the wining proponent in a Request for Proposals in 2017 for the Quayside project. As the chosen Innovation and Funding Partner, they have collaborated with us on ideas for a new kind of community on Toronto’s waterfront at Quayside, 12 acres of land situated along Toronto’s waterfront at the intersection of Lake Shore Boulevard East and Parliament Street.

You can find more details about that project here.

What development is happening as part of this project? Will new buildings be going up on Villiers Island?

The new river valley will create Villiers Island. However, this project doesn’t include the development of new buildings on Villiers Island, or anywhere in the Port Lands. That development can begin once Port Lands Flood Protection is complete in 2024.

The guidelines for buildings, roads and more on Villiers Island are in the Villiers Island Precinct Plan. The Villiers Island Precinct Plan was adopted by Toronto City Council in October 2017, along with the Port Lands Planning Framework, which sets the long-term vision for the Port Lands. As part of the planning process to finalize the Villiers Island Precinct Plan, we collaborated with the City of Toronto to consult the public. Find public presentations and meeting summary reports in our document library.

The design work underway does consider parks, public spaces and roads on Villiers Island to make sure what we build as part of Port Lands Flood Protection works as part of the larger, future system of parks in the Port Lands. It doesn’t deal with any new buildings. Find out more about what we are building as part of Port Lands Flood Protection here.

What will happen to existing places in the Port Lands, like Cherry Beach?

The naturalized areas already exist in the Port Lands are staying untouched. Spaces like Tommy Thompson Park and Cherry Beach aren’t within this project area – they’re important habitat for wildlife and natural spaces for people to explore. You can see the area of the Port Lands we’re transforming on the project map located here.

What do higher lake levels mean for flood protection plans in the area?

Port Lands Flood Protection is about protecting against flooding from the Don River, which is separate from possible effects of high lake levels. When we began detailed design, we based our flood modelling on provincial guidelines to protect the Port Lands and surrounding area from flooding in the event of a Regulatory Storm. The Province of Ontario defines a Regulatory Storm as the 1 in 100 year storm or the most severe storm to ever hit the region (whichever is the larger event). For Toronto, that is 1954’s Hurricane Hazel. Our design creates 100 per cent resiliency during a storm even larger than Hurricane Hazel. Water levels in Lake Ontario typically fluctuate by up to one metre above and below average lake levels. Because of this, we’re designing wetlands that can survive extremes of high or low water levels. The wetlands will be built at different elevations, which means if water levels go up or down, there will always be some areas available for fish, birds and other wildlife to find food and shelter. This keeps the entire system healthy.  In the event of prolonged extreme weather or lack of water due to low lake levels, a monitoring plan will be in place so that we can adapt the system. Hydraulic modelling indicates that that the forecasted increases in the 100-year high lake level will not significantly impact the design flood levels from the Don River.

So, if it doesn’t change the flood risk from the Don River, what impact does higher lake levels have? The Port Lands, in their existing condition, would be at risk from rising lake levels just like elsewhere on the waterfront – unrelated to its location in the Don River’s watershed. Our initial designs for infrastructure like dock walls and underground utilities were done to accommodate the original 100-year high lake level condition of 75.7m. However, due to the record high lake levels that were experienced in 2017 and 2019, the 100-year high lake level has been reforecasted twice since the beginning of the project. The first time the 100-year lake level was adjusted, in summer 2019, Waterfront Toronto adjusted our designs to reflect that new high lake condition. After TRCA’s most recent recommendation that these numbers again be increased to 76.2m, Waterfront Toronto is now exploring what changes to the design are necessary or possible, in consultation with our government partners. We are now reviewing any remaining recommendations and will provide updates when we have that information.

It’s important to clarify that higher lake levels would not result in catastrophic lake flooding on the future Villiers Island. As part of PLFP, those areas will be raised well above high lake levels to address the flood risk from the Don River. The main challenge within the Port Lands Flood Protection project area will be localized run-off and ponding from those future urban lands if lake levels are very high.

When will the project start and when will it be finished?

Construction began on the Cherry Street Lakefilling Project in December 2017. We started digging the new river valley in summer 2018. The Port Lands Flood Protection Project is scheduled for completion in 2024.

Read more about construction here.

Which exact areas will be protected from flooding when this project is complete?

290 hectares of land are at risk due to flooding from the Don River, under a Hurricane-Hazel-sized storm event.

This image shows the area of the eastern waterfront that is at risk of flooding:

This project will remove the flood risk to 240 hectares of land. The majority of the remaining 50 hectares of land will be intentionally designed to flood, and they are located within the Keating Channel and the new naturalized river valley system.

Read more about flood risks in Toronto here.