Boaters trying to paddle or sail out of Ashbridges Bay know to watch the depth of the exit channel, especially after a big storm.
“There’s been summers when you could go pitch a tent and camp out there,” says Rennie Stobbs, manager at the Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club.
Last July the city paid $138,000 to dredge two Olympic pools’ worth of sand out of the marked channel leading boaters in and out of the bay through the Coatsworth Cut – a costly task that never seems to end given the 10,000 cubic metres of sand that Lake Ontario pushes past the Ashbridges Bay headlands in an average year.
“I think it’s safe to say we could probably be spending $200,000 every year just to keep on top of the dredging requirements, and you could get a large storm event that will basically fill the channel right back in,” said Laura Stephenson, a senior manager with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. “We’re facing this across the waterfront.”
In early February, the TRCA presented its latest plan to quit the costly dredging by building a series of breakwalls to protect the bay from a build-up of sediment. The TRCA has settled on a preferred option among the three basic designs.
That option includes a 100-metre breakwall extending from the southern tip of the headlands, plus a curving, 650-metre long breakwall just east of the neighbouring wastewater plant that would create a 40-metre wide channel to better contain the stormwater that exits the plant during heavy rain storms.
It has the advantage of improving water quality in Ashbridges Bay, where E. coli counts are often above recommended levels following major rainfall due to storm outflows from the plant and four combined sewer overflow drains at the bay’s north end.
Stephenson said only about a dozen people came to the Feb. 6 meeting and to a previous open-house last summer – a low turnout she attributed partly to the fact that the TRCA began working on a breakwalls study back in 2002, only to have it suspended in 2004 due to an overlapping project at the wastewater plant and again in 2009 due to a lack of funding for what was then a much more ambitious design tied to plans for Lake Ontario Park.
Unlike that design, which would have cost $20 to $40 million, the current one is estimated at $8.7 to $14.1 million and does not call for any of the three Beach boating clubs that use the channel to move into a reconfigured headland where the yacht club is now.
Stephenson noted that those three clubs – Toronto Hydroplane & Sailing, the Vanguard sea cadets, and the Balmy Beach Canoe Club – all sent representatives to the open-house, as did local naturalists and the Friends of Tommy Thompson Park.
Besides the clubs, the channel serves what is now the busiest public launch in the former city of Toronto.
Sue Stuart, who paddles with the Balmy Beach Canoe Club, said while city staff are reluctant to abandon the 2008 plan for Lake Ontario Park, which would connect the eastern beaches and Tommy Thompson Park, she can’t see how those plans can continue given the breakwaters’ design.
The 2008 plan would also create a much longer stretch than the 450 metres of protected water paddlers currently have to practice on in Ashbridges Bay.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Lake Ontario Park plan didn’t come to fruition,” Stuart said. “We pushed so hard for that, over several years.”
Stuart said the big issue for Balmy Beach paddlers is not just running aground in the Coatsworth Cut, but being forced into a narrow channel with much larger boats.
“What I’ve been saying in the last several meetings, and will continue to say until I see it in documented form, is that they need to dredge all of the cut,” she said, noting how dangerous it is to have a 20-foot sailboat that can’t come to a quick stop in same narrow channel as a tippy, non-motorized craft.
“There are safety issues for both motorized and non-motorized,” she said.
Images of the breakwater designs are available on the TRCA website. As well as the breakwaters, the plans show a new wastewater treatment facility and artificial wetland for treating stormwater in heavy rainstorms.
Future plans might include a publicly accessible shoreline trail along the breakwaters and extra lake fill needed to build the new facility and wetlands. Construction of the breakwaters is not expected to start until 2015, and will depend on funding from the city