Councillor calls contractor's unauthorized Glebe park tree-cutting 'infuriating'

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By Zev Singer, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — Well, this won't help. In an attempt to smooth over an old grievance, a chainsaw rarely does.

After years of rancorous debate and many rounds of courtroom fisticuffs, Lansdowne Park's development was finally settled and the city hoped resigned Glebe residents might slowly be won over as the project moves from theory to reality.

On Tuesday morning, the transformation from drawings began — and came to a screaming halt. The contractor, with an admitted oops, began clearcutting a beloved stand of trees on Holmwood Avenue before it was authorized to do so.

To be sure, those pine, spruce and oak trees along the north edge of the Lansdown site were long since doomed by a city council decision, but the contractor was not supposed to cut them down until neighbours were notified of the timing.

No notes went out. Construction workers just began removing the trees. Soon, telephone lines were blazing, city officials were scurrying in and out of a series of high-speed huddles and Glebe residents began chaining their bikes to the contractor's equipment. By 11 a.m., the equipment had been shut down until proper notice can be given.

David Chernushenko, the councillor for the area, said the mess-up was exactly what the neighbourhood didn't need.

"This is already a neighbourhood that feels like the entire future of Lansdowne and the neighbourhood they know has been decided by someone else far away without taking their concerns seriously," he said.

Now, he said, as the project goes forward, it is a time to at least not make things worse.

"Even if they'll never like it, you're not going to rub salt in the wound and say, 'Oops, we've cut down the park while you were at work'," Chernushenko said. "That's really it. It's, 'For goodness sakes, couldn't we have got this right?'"

By the evening, about 50 residents, and eight dogs, were gathered at the site. Little "RIP" signs were on the stumps of the trees that had been cut down and many child-produced posters, some invoking the Dr. Seuss character the Lorax, were up on the newly installed fence.

"Save the trees," they said. "Think of the children," and "Oh look, a pretty field ... Nevermind. Not anymore."

Mayor Jim Watson, who was blamed by at least one of the signs — "Thanks for the notice, Jim" — was not pleased.

"I was very upset that one of the contractors did not follow proper procedure and notify affected homeowners," Watson said. "Council, through a unanimous vote, agreed to proceed with certain steps, including dealing with contaminated soil so some trees will have to be removed, including those cut down.

"However, the residents should have been properly notified and they will be prior to the work beginning. Many more trees will be replanted than are removed when the project is complete, but it still doesn't take away my anger that the contractor failed to follow our direction."

For its part, the contractor, EllisDon, issued an apology.

"EllisDon would like to sincerely apologize for the inconvenience related to the tree removal work that took place on the morning on June 05, 2012. EllisDon mobilized on site as stipulated in our contract agreement but should not have executed any work until properly authorized to do so by the City representative. We only had good intention since the removals of those trees are part (of) our mandate and could affect some critical milestone."

Chernushenko, who called the episode "embarrassing" and "infuriating," said although residents knew the cutting would come, they wanted time to be able to say goodbye to the trees.

"Residents will choose to grieve the loss of a park," he said. "That's basically a neighbourhood's park and it has been for decades and this is a big deal to people to lose their park."

The councillor said the minimum proper notice would be 48 hours. He added, however, that he will ask that before the cutting continues the city ensure the work is not in contravention of federal regulations protecting migratory birds that are nesting in the trees.

With files from Mark Brownlee and David Reevely

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