At first sight White Birch Road looks like a street with a head start on spring renovations. Front yards are dug up, some driveways have new asphalt patches, lawns are resodded in spots, and some properties are surrounded by safety fences. Bulldozers, diggers and dump trucks are working the dusty street. It’s a busy place.
However, residents are not happy about all the activity. In December Toronto Hydro advised them that transformers and poles would be moved from their backyards. These installations can be hard to reach even if you can get a cherry picker down the driveway. (Hydro linemen no longer climb the 20+ year old poles).
The homeowners, former Councillor Brian Ashton, and the current Ward 36 Councillor Gary Crawford all thought they understood that the new infrastructure would be buried underground in the front yards.
But there is a catch. Every 10th or 12th house is in the process of having a submersible transformer buried on its front lawn, but the 7 x 4 ft. steel cover with a grating will be visible. Many other houses will have a 2×4 foot metal tap box in the front yard, also sticking out like a sore thumb.
Toronto Hydro was in the hot seat on May 9 at the third public meeting held nearby at Birchcliff Bluffs United Church, at Kingston/Warden, organized by Crawford. Also taking a hit along with Hydro staff, was a representative from the permit department at City Hall, who pointed out that Hydro had met all the requirements and standards to be issued permits. Also present were 70 residents from White Birch, and other nearby streets affected including Warden, Viewbank and Queensgrove.
Residents were vocal in their complaints about a perceived lack of disclosure and transparency on Hydro’s part. Now they feel that property values will be affected. One woman now has a 7 x 4 ft. vault cover on a 9 x 12 ft. lawn. She was heavily applauded when she commented,”Landscaping won’t hide this. Why don’t you put up an outhouse while you’re at it?”
One White Birch homeowner said she was “gaining a vault and losing a tree.”
Patricia Rhodes, a local realtor and homeowner, wanted to know what compensation would be available for those who bear the burden of losing value in their homes because of the vault installation. “The process has been circumvented,” she claimed.
Another concern was potential health hazards of electro magnetic levels coming off the transformers, but a Hydro spokesman responded that they were within Health Canada and provincial standards. Safety is Hydro’s number one issue, then regulation requirements, and trying to be on the leading edge of technology, he said.
For those who wanted the vaults placed on the vacant land at the foot of Warden, or the traffic island at the foot of White Birch, officials advised that these sites were too far away to transport power to the top of streets. Nor could tap boxes be moved from the lawns to the driveways as they are not sturdy enough to survive vehicles parked on top of them.
Residents wanted the jackhammers halted and a moratorium until problems could be resolved. The city representative said there was no reason to pull the permit as Toronto Hydro was following process.
Crawford said that he had taken the matter to the Scarborough Community Council and proposed a motion to postpone the work, but was defeated. He would need seven of the 10 councillors on side to try again for a moratorium, and it is unlikely to happen.