As most of you have no doubt heard by now, contracted crews began cutting down trees along Holmwood Ave. on Tuesday morning (June 5), much to the surprise of local residents who had not been notified of this work.
They quickly took action, locked their bicycles to the equipment to prevent further work, and contacted my office. I immediately asked for the work to be halted as I tried to find out what was going on, as I had not been advised that this work would begin. Those who stopped the cutting should be commended for their initiative, and for alerting me to what was happening. I cannot be everywhere at once and cannot always react to unfolding events as quickly as I would like to, so I am grateful to the dedicated residents who can and do take action.
It turns out that no one else at City Hall was aware of the work starting either. A sub-contractor to EllisDon Corporation, one of the contractors for the Lansdowne redevelopment, had proceeded unilaterally with the planned removal of trees required for soil remediation and the moving of the Horticultural Building. The company did so even though it had not yet received permission to begin, and even though residents had not been properly notified as required, and as promised by me.
For everyone in the neighbourhood — and me — it’s infuriating and frustrating that such major work would start without proper authorization and without residents being notified as required. I demanded and received an apology from the contractor:
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 our mandate and could affect some critical milestone. Sincerely,
Martin Burns P.Eng. P.GSC
Senior Project Manager, EllisDon Corporation
However, I do not believe this statement demonstrates a full understanding of why an apology is necessary. This is not simply a matter of “inconvenience”. It is a matter of respect for local residents and for the City’s own rules.
There is another issue as well: Residents raised concerns about the possible presence of nesting birds in these trees. The City’s Forestry Department brought in an environmental expert on Wednesday at my insistence to verify that no nesting birds are being disturbed. According to the consultant, while there are several species of birds at the site, including some young ones, there are no active nests at this time. Still, it remains unclear whether the City normally takes any steps to ensure compliance with federal and provincial regulations concerning the destruction of nests and disturbance of wildlife.
Meanwhile, the City maintains that the trees must go, and the work will resume on Monday, June 11. By then, all residents within several blocks of Sylvia Holden Park should have received appropriate notice from the City. The environmental expert recommended making extensive noise with an air horn or similar device before cutting begins, and stated that tree removal must be halted if any active nests are observed during the removal process. Apparently this is all standard procedure. I am also told that access to Sylvia Holden Park at the corner of Bank and Holmwood has been reinstated, and access further east along Holmwood should be reinstated by tomorrow (Friday), with the entire site closed off again on Monday at 7 a.m.
But the matter is not over. This episode speaks to a larger problem within the City of Ottawa. There is a perception that developers, contractors and others who do business with the City can do as they please with no fear of repercussions. This must change.
In the short term, I am exploring the possibility of the City imposing a fine or other penalty in this case. In the long term, I am committed to fighting for the enforcement of municipal, provincial and federal regulations in the City of Ottawa. Rules and procedures are not mere suggestions, and the failure to follow them should not simply be shrugged off by those responsible, and by the City, as a mistake. As a first step, I am demanding a review of contractual clauses stipulating the need for commence work authorization, and the use of penalties for errors such as this.
The Lansdowne redevelopment already falls far short of the standards we expect for transparency, accountability, community consultation and consensus building. The project has been plagued by a confrontational attitude on the part of the project’s proponents, vilification of critics, poor communication, disregard for proper procedures, and disrespect for the local residents who are most aware of the potential negative consequences of this development, and who are being asked to sacrifice the most for this project to go ahead.
This turn of events adds to my profound disappointment over this entire redevelopment, and only serves to further anger local residents. Their distrust of the City and disappointment that I, with my one vote, cannot stop the inevitable is quite understandable.
What the City says
- The removal of about 60 trees on Holmwood Ave. was already scheduled as part of the Lansdowne redevelopment work approved by Council. According to the City, this is necessary to access the contaminated soil for remediation and to begin preliminary work for the move of the Horticulture Building.
- Existing trees that need to be removed will be replaced following the City of Ottawa Tree Replacement Policy and the conditions set out in the Lansdowne Tree Planting plan for both Holmwood Ave. and for the entire redevelopment. The Holmwood Tree Planting plan includes detailed conditions for soil, drainage, grading, size, spacing and species of tree to ensure acceptable site conditions for future tree planting at Lansdowne.
- The City has also committed to minimizing disruption and inconvenience to the public during construction. It has tightened procedures, communications protocols and approval processes with contractors carrying out tree removal and other construction activity at Lansdowne.
- Although fences have been erected in compliance with health and safety regulations, access to Sylvia Holden Park (at Bank and Holmwood) is currently possible, and access further east along Holmwood should be reinstated by Friday. The site will be closed off to the public as of Monday, June 11, at 7 a.m.
Councillor for Capital Ward