SURREY — The City of Surrey says it’s too early to say if it will seek an injunction after protesters blocking machinery stopped excavators from tree-clearing work in Surrey’s Hawthorne Park this morning.
In the meantime, City of Surrey project manager Victor Jhingan said the city will try to “engage” protesters who are opposed to the city’s plans to build a road through the Surrey park.
“We ask and we support that they protest in a safe and peaceful manner outside the construction site,” he told reporters at a press conference at Surrey city hall Wednesday afternoon.
Jhingan wouldn’t say how much the delay caused by the protesters would cost the city but acknowledged there would be a cost to having work stopped, adding work can’t be done overnight due to safety concerns.
Earlier Wednesday, Surrey resident Trevor Cox stood in front of a bright orange excavator. Cox told the Now-Leader he plans to stand there all day and is willing to be arrested, if need be.
“I’m willing to go to jail for it,” he said. “Especially for saving trees, come on – who could go to jail for anything better?”
Standing at the spot where he blocked machinery this morning, Cox recounted the incident to the Now-Leader.
“It stopped right behind me here, you can see the tracks in the ground,” he said. “I walked towards it, they did back away as I came close because the trees were falling down. There are some loose trees here right here. These all are able to fall at any moment.”
Cox said as he made his stand, workers yelled at him, asking if he’s willing to risk his life for the trees.
“And I said, ‘yes I do.’”
Cox took issue with the 42 days opponents were given to collect more than 30,000 signatures against the project in order to stop it. To meet the city’s requirement, said Cox, they would have had to collect “723 a day, 30 an hour and one every two minutes without stopping.”
“The 11,161 valid elector response forms” in opposition of the project is what motivated him to protest, said Cox. “That’s 265 a day and one every seven minutes without stopping. I’m here specifically voicing for the 600 people I met and got signatures from. But there are thousands more I had not met.”
— Surrey Now-Leader (@SurreyNowLeader) January 10, 2018
Cox said he also has a personal connection to the park.
“I’ve been coming to Hawthorne Park as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are at the park, and with the trees in the background.”
He says he will stay as “long as he needs to.”
“I will not let them continue,” he stressed.
The work stoppage comes as protesters hold a “last stand” at Hawthorne Park today as the City of Surrey works on tree clearing in preparation for a connector road through the greenspace.
This is the second day of protests in opposition to the city’s controversial project that is proceeding despite 11,000 Surrey residents formally voicing their disapproval of the plan and a failed attempt in court to halt construction.
Tree clearing was expected to be completed by the week’s end.
Ken Bennett, a retired biologist who worked with both the City of Surrey and City of Richmond during his career, tweeted Wednesday was the “last stand” to save trees at the park.
“The city is removing the forest for a road,” Bennett wrote. “The arrogance and ignorance by #CityofSurrey has been outrageous…. This is not okay!”
#saveHawthornePark last stand! 11:30 am Wed. Jan 10. Be there. The city is removing the forest for a road. The arrogance and ignorance by #CityofSurrey has been outrageous. Please retweet. This is not okay!
— Ken Bennett (@kgbennett1954) January 10, 2018
On Tuesday morning, an angry — and tired — Tracie Woodhams was one of about a dozen protesters at the park.
“You have no idea how exhausted some of us are with all of the stuff we have had to do, all the hoops we have had to jump through,” said Woodhams, who held high a yellow sign that read “Save Hawthorne Park,” cars honking as they went by.
“And the fact it appears as if nobody is listening.”
— Amy Marie Reid (@amyreid87) January 9, 2018
On Tuesday afternoon, Surrey resident Richard Landale told the Now-Leader he was “heartbroken” as chainsaws could be heard in Hawthorne Park. He says council wants LRT “at any price – the environment is the price.”
Leader of the Save Hawthorne Park group Steven Pettigrew said despite beginning construction, the city still hasn’t “got all their ducks in order.”
According to Pettigrew, the city still has three properties to expropriate in order to build the completed 105 Avenue connector road, and details about replacing the Hjorth Road Elementary school’s field – which the planned road would cut through – have yet to be solidified.
“And there’s still three properties at the north end of Hawthorne Park they want to buy,” he added.
In response, Project Manager Victor Jhingan said the project is being implemented “on a phased construction approach, as we would with any large project of this scope.”
“The City has secured the necessary land required for the current phase of construction between 140th Street and 144th Street, and we are actively negotiating with property owners, including the School District, for the remaining land needed for subsequent phases of the project,” added Jhingan.
While the city says it’s taking down about 200 trees, opponents claim its more like 2,000.
“The tree count is based on the Surrey’s Tree Protection By-law which identifies trees that are at least 30 centimetres in diameter at chest height,” said Jhingan.
“This is a common practice amongst municipalities in identifying tree removal, and is applied consistently to any homeowner, developer or the City itself when tree removal is proposed,” he continued. “The trees that are being removed in Hawthorne Park have been assessed by an independent arborist are primarily in poor health and are not long lasting trees. Additionally, approximately 250 additional trees will be removed from the park for the park improvement works. It is important to note that as part of our mitigation plan, the project is acquiring over five acres of adjacent biodiverse natural areas, adding a net increase of one acre of parkland and resulting in a net increase of 200 trees in the expanded park area.”
The road through the park is one portion of the City of Surrey’s 105 Avenue Connector project.
The city’s justification for the connector road is to move utilities off 104 Avenue in preparation for light rail, that it’s been in the city’s Official Community Plan since 1986, and to create an east-west connector to Whalley Boulevard to 150th Street to ease traffic and reduce congestion.
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner recently told the Now-Leader that the 105 Avenue Connector Road project will improve access, circulation, and connectivity for the community between City Centre and Guildford, as well as improving the local transportation network.
The City of Surrey has awarded the contract to complete phase one of the Hawthorne Park project to Tybo Contracting Ltd. Phase one of the contract is expected to be finished by Sept. 28, 2018. Estimates show that phase one should cost about $11.25 million.
With files from Beau Simpson