Capital councillor, public confront crews at Holmwood tree cutting

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By Mark Brownlee, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — The councillor who represents the area encompassing Lansdowne Park was on hand early Monday as confusion reigned over whether the federal government would be stepping in to prevent trees from being removed.

Capital Councillor David Chernushenko said Sunday night that based on an email area residents forwarded to him, he was unsure whether the city would be able to proceed with cutting down the trees on Holmwood Avenue.

The email, a copy of which was forwarded to the Citizen by resident Diane McIntyre, said the city would not be able to remove the trees because officials with Environment Canada, which oversees the agency responsible for protecting endangered species, had found a migratory bird living in one.

McIntyre, who demonstrated last week against the removal of the trees, had asked the federal government to check the site to ensure the city was following the rules. She received the email Friday afternoon, after employees from the agency visited the site.

City officials acknowledged McIntyre's claim that Environment Canada staff had visited the site "at the request of a third party" but denied the municipality would not be able to continue the work.

"Claims that a stop work order has been issued for the City of Ottawa's tree removal plan at the Lansdowne Park Redevelopment Project are false," wrote Marco Manconi, the manager of design and construction at Lansdowne, in a statement emailed Sunday.

Environment Canada officials would be at the site Monday morning to ensure the city was following the rules, wrote Manconi.

But the email from Environment Canada said federal officials would be there to stop the removal of the trees because that would break a federal law designed to protect migratory species.

The email said wildlife service officials found a cardinal on the street and they have "good reason to believe" there were chipping sparrows to the east of where the trees were chopped down last week.

"The Canadian Wildlife Service will need to contact the City of Ottawa to inform them that work (tree cutting) cannot continue along Holmwood Avenue (Sylvia Holden Park) because we now have documented evidence that Migratory Birds are nesting in this area," said the email signed by Martin Thabault, an operations manager with the wildlife enforcement division of Environment Canada, the federal government department responsible for the matter.

The Citizen could not reach Thabault for comment Sunday afternoon.

Chernushenko said he hadn't heard from city staff or Environment Canada on the matter and intended to be at the site at around 7 a.m. Monday, the earliest time the work could start, to sort the whole thing out.

The city commissioned the contractor responsible for removing the trees, EllisDon, to inspect the site last week to see if there were any birds that might result in them breaking federal law if the trees were chopped down, he said.

They determined they would not be breaking the relevant migratory bird law and ruled the work could proceed.

Work crews abruptly stopped removing the trees last week because the city had not informed residents of the date when they were to be knocked down. The removal was then rescheduled for Monday morning.

EllisDon later apologized for cutting the trees down when they weren't supposed to.

The tree removal is part of the plan to redesign Lansdowne Park so that new elements, such as commercial buildings, can be introduced.

The city needs to knock down roughly 60 trees so it can begin "remediation" of the surrounding soil, wrote city spokesman Michael FitzPatrick in an email last week. That is part of work that needs to be done before crews can move the Horticulture Building. City manager Kent Kirkpatrick said last month the building needs to be relocated before any redevelopment of Lansdowne can begin.

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