SURREY — Residents are mourning the loss of hundreds of trees in Hawthorne Park.
The city cut down approximately 450 trees last week in preparation for a road through the greenspace, wrapping up on Saturday.
“Every single tree and shrub between the two construction fences are down,” Save Hawthorne Park leader Steven Pettigrew told the Now-Leader Monday morning.
“It looks like the type of clear cut that you see on the mountains after a lumber company has been through.”
On social media, residents report being able to see 104th Avenue and nearby condos from the park’s playground, a view previously blocked by forest.
A vigil for the trees was held by opponents on Saturday to “grieve the loss and devastation of one of our communities most significant naturally occurring indigenous lands that housed our neighbourhood bog and thousands of creatures that have either been killed or lost their home” according to an event invitation.
— Daryl Dela Cruz (@daka_x) January 14, 2018
#SaveHawthornePark campaigners hold a candlelight vigil to mourn the massive loss & destruction in Hawthorne Park. Trees have been cut down so you can now see 104 Ave & nearby condos from playground area. So much has changed in a few days… #bcpoli #surreypoli #SurreyBC pic.twitter.com/UNYarAqREN
— Daryl Dela Cruz (@daka_x) January 14, 2018
Pettigrew estimated about 30 people attended the vigil.
“We shared stories, many people brought food and we spent several hours decompressing from the campaign and coming to terms with what has happened,” said Pettigrew. “Many people from the community dropped by and there was a real community spirit.”
Pettigrew said members of the Save Hawthorne Park group are “taking a short break and changing gears.”
“We are not finished by a long shot and will be making an announcement in a few weeks when all our plans are finalized,” he added.
The project is proceeding despite more than 11,000 Surrey citizens formally voicing their disapproval, an attempt in court to halt it, and a protester blocking machinery from tree-clearing and delaying work by a day.
Pettigrew said despite clear cutting, 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 large trees, opponents claim the total count is more like 2,000.
“The tree count (of 200) 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’s Engineering Communications Manager Rosemary Silva told the Now-Leader on Monday that while tree-felling was essentially complete on Saturday, a few more trees in Hawthorne Park will require hand-cutting and will be cut down in the coming days.
“Earthworks and ground preparation for the road will begin once the site has been cleared,” she said. “While much of the public attention has focused singularly on the required tree removal within the Park, it’s important to recognize that this project is much larger in scope. It will deliver a two-lane multi-modal collector road between Whalley Boulevard and 150th Street to serve the access and connectivity needs of the growing community between City Centre and Guildford Town Centre.”
She said the new 105 Avenue collecter road “complements work currently underway” on nearby arterial roads, such as capacity improvements along 100th Avenue with its widening from a two-lane road to a four-lane arterial standard, as well as improvements along 108th Avenue, both of which will reduce traffic congestion on 104th Avenue.
Silva said the improvements aims to “strike a balance between the area’s growing transportation demands, plans for sustainable development in City Centre and along 104 Avenue, as well as delivering improved amenities within Hawthorne Park through $6 million in committed investments.”
Silva said park improvements will include new environmental and biodiversity features, a relocated parking area which increases natural space within the park for picnics and play, a new waterpark and all ages playground, as well as new park access points, walking trails, pedestrian paths and cycle tracks.
“Within the Park, the City has designed a customized road corridor which reduces the overall road footprint and includes enhancements such as noise attenuating pavement to reduce noise levels,” she added. “It also provides for maximized boulevard design for large street tree growth, above-standard space for cyclists and pedestrians, and new Park access points for neighbours.”
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