Lansdowne protest can't save trees

on .

By Tony Spears, Ottawa Sun

The trees are falling at Sylvia Holden Park.

The City of Ottawa said the destruction of about 60 trees on Holmwood Ave. would begin Monday afternoon -- and the chainsaws were fired up shortly before 1 p.m. It had been thought that the discovery last week of migratory birds' nests in that area might delay the tree removal until late this summer.

"A stop work order was never issued against the city by Environment Canada," the city said in a release. "The contractor's biologist and an expert from Environment Canada reviewed the site this (Monday) morning.

"Tree removal will proceed with caution to ensure that the tree removal plan is in full compliance with the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act."

An Friday e-mail to city staff from Environment Canada staff had said that "work (tree cutting) cannot continue along Holmwood Ave."

But in a Monday morning e-mail to city staff, Environment Canada Director General Sheldon Jordan said that statement was "erroneous" because the department doesn't regulate tree-cutting.

He did say that any work "would need to be carried out in a manner that does not lead to (migratory bird nests') disturbance or destruction."

Ottawa Police kept up a presence near the scene Monday morning. A police SUV and cops on bikes drove past the protesters and two large vans idled a few hundred feet away at the corner of Holmwood Ave. and Bank St.

Police officials declined to say if they had orders to remove protesters.

"We have the appropriate resources in place," said spokesman Const. Henri Lanctot.

The first skirmish to take place between protesters and construction workers took place shortly before 9 a.m. when workers looked ready to remove temporary fencing.

Martha McKeen wedged herself through a gap in the fence and prevented them from doing so. Workers rolled their eyes, sighed, and wandered away.

"It's called civil disobedience," said a voice in the crowd, to cheers.

"They're continuing to disregard us," McKeen said.

A few minutes later, with no more workers in evidence she added: "How long do I have to stay here?"

A group of Glebe residents gathered early Monday morning to protest the planned removal of several dozen trees to make way for the Lansdowne Park redevelopment.

About 50 to 60 people milled along the construction fence line, which was adorned with colourful posters calling for the trees to be saved because, they claim, there are birds and other animals nesting and living in them.

Residents claimed Environment Canada inspectors have visited the site and recommended the trees not be immediately removed.

"They assured us that the city should not be cutting and that they would be advising the city not to cut," said area resident Diane McIntyre. "It's a travesty."

Lee Blue, who also lives in the neighbourhood, said one of her children drew some of the posters which have been festooned on the construction fence. She said her children have played under the trees in the park for years.

"Knowing they are going to be gone is heartbreaking," she said.

Capital Ward Coun. David Chernoshenko was also on hand to lend his support to the residents.

The protest is the latest in a long list of moves designed to prevent or delay the $250-million redevelopment of Lansdowne Park and Frank Clair Stadium. Two groups have filed several court challenges against the project, which has been fully approved by Ottawa Council. None of the court challenges has been successful to date.

The project includes a redevelopment of the stadium and Civic Centre hockey rink, a retail and commercial development and redesigned park spaces.

As part of the redesign project, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which has partnered with the city for the project, will also bring a new Canadian Football League franchise and a professional soccer team to the city.

Because one legal challenge remains before the courts, the city has not granted final approval to begin full construction. However, the tree cutting, some environmental cleanup and several other aspects of the project are being allowed to go ahead because this work will need to be done whether or not the full redevelopment project proceeds.