Plan B work continues despite protesters efforts

Highway crews in New Haven, P.E.I. are moving work around to avoid protesters who are camped out in a stand of hemlock trees.

Protesters are camping out to try and save a stand of old hemlocks

Heavy winds Thursday morning at the site of construction on the Trans-Canada Highway drove away some protesters who were picketing at the entrance to the property.

Many of those protesters returned in the afternoon, bringing more with them and one federal politician, who joined in the criticism of the project.

"Islanders have told me that this is one of the last few remaining places that has old growth forests on this island and to take that away, you just don't lose it for a week, you lose it forever," said Malcolm Allen, the NDP's federal agriculture critic. "Then to fill in this valley and to actually put a culvert across this beautiful stream and put in a lot of fill to level it off, just doesn't make any sense."

Rumours were circulating that tree harvesters and other heavy machinery would soon enter the stand of old hemlock forest that the protesters are protecting. Excavators and gravel trucks were at the site Thursday afternoon.

Allen wasn't the only politician to make it to the work site and talk with protesters. P.E.I. transportation critic Stephen Myers said the provincial government isn't listening to the reasons why the protesters are at the site.

"They were never prepared to listen," said Myers. "They're not prepared to listen now, they weren't prepared to listen yesterday, they weren't prepared to listen five months ago."

For a week now the protesters have been camping out at the site, piling wood on what they call a sacred fire lit by a Mi'kmaw elder.

Peter Bevan-Baker, P.E.I.'s incoming green party leader, was served trespassing papers during a protest Tuesday. Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has thrown her support behind Bevan-Baker and the protesters.

The project, which received environmental approval early last week, would require clear cutting the stand of hemlock trees. It will also run through four watercourses in the central part of the province. Proponents for the project argue the realignment is necessary to make a winding, dangerous stretch of highway safer for motorists.

"We did decide to come over to the south side of the road and do some work on Encounter Creek," said Steven Yeo, P.E.I.'s Chief Engineer. "We have been working on the other end of the project in the Bonshaw area and that's progressing, so work is continuing."

Protesters disrupted work for three days last week when they got too close to some machinery and police shut down the work site temporarily over safety concerns. Crews had to erect a six kilometre long fence and posted "No Trespassing" signs before work could continue.