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Businesses want Toronto Islands, closed due to flooding, reopened to public

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jul 5th, 2017

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Crews brought in massive sandbags on May 19, 2017, to create a makeshift breakwall as water levels rise in Lake Ontario. CITYNEWS/Tammie Sutherland
Business owners on the Toronto Islands say the city’s decision to shut down the popular park due to record flooding earlier this year has had a devastating effect on the restaurants, lodges, and shops that rely on tourist traffic in the busy summer season.

They say water levels are currently much lower than they were at their worst in May, and visitors should be allowed to return to the island, where currently only visitors who have a reservation made with a restaurant or hotel are allowed to catch a ferry.

“If you were to come over here and I told you avoid standing water… but go ahead to the beach and stay away in the dry areas, you’d be fine,” said David Smiley, owner of the Smiley’s Bed and Breakfast located on Ward’s Island, the eastern part of the Toronto Islands.

Smiley says he can now walk from Ward’s Island to Gibraltar Point — a route spanning about two-thirds of the entire islands — without getting his feet wet.

His rooms are almost entirely empty on the weekdays, when last year they would have been fully booked, Smiley says. Nonetheless, he says the few people who do come out are enjoying the unique experience.

“If you use your head, you can have a great time, and you own the island,” says Smiley, noting that the emptiness has brought in a different experience for visitors.

Zorah Freeman-McIntyre, co-owner of the nearby Island Cafe shares the view that part of the islands should be open, and said that most of the paths are clear from water.

“The city seems to be really dragging their feet,” said Freeman-McIntyre, whose business has also stayed open throughout the season.

Wynna Brown, a city spokeswoman, said they are considering a partial opening of the islands, but wouldn’t say which areas. The city expects to have an update later in the week, she said.

“We’re certainly focused on getting the islands up as quickly as possible, but there are some operational considerations,” said Brown.

“Right now water levels are beginning to recede, which is good news, but they’re still about 30 centimetres or so above pre-flood conditions in April, so we have a way to go.”

The biggest issue for the city is that water levels are too high for the ferry to use the Centre Island dock, which is the park’s busiest entry point.

Freeman-McIntyre said he was concerned that water levels won’t recede to what the city expects until well into August.

“It makes me feel bad that people aren’t able to come across and enjoy it,” he said. “People need a green space to go to.”

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