British Columbia

Surrey city crews halt tree-felling in Hawthorne Park due to protesters

City crews, who began cutting down trees in Hawthorne Park Tuesday to make way for a new road, have now stopped, saying protesters have made conditions unsafe.

Council unanimously approved project that staff say will increase park size and add improvements

A worker uses a chainsaw to cut down a tree in Hawthorne Park Tuesday. (Denis Dossman/CBC)

City crews have stopped cutting down in trees Surrey's Hawthorne Park, saying protesters have made working conditions unsafe.

Crews had begun cutting down the trees in a fenced area on Tuesday as part of a controversial road project.

As the work progressed, protesters gathered on the other side of the fence, holding up signs and asking motorists to honk in support as they kept up their fight to stop the work.

On Wednesday, a small group of protesters ran into the area, very close to the tree clearing.

Trevor Cox was one of the protesters.

"We've set up around a tree right now. We've set up a little vigil of all the broken trees, a candle, and a couple of things I've found in the forest," Cox said.

"[I will stay] as long as it needs to be, as long as they're not willing to tear down the forest any longer."

One of the protesters, Trevor Cox, says he'll stay as long as he has to to stop the tree-clearing. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Future light rail line location

The city wants to build a two-lane road through the park.

It says the project, a realignment of 105 Avenue, will reduce congestion along 104 Street and lay the groundwork for a proposed light rail transit system.

A staff report tabled in late 2017 acknowledged the project "may be perceived negatively by some residents," but noted it also would result in a net two-hectare increase in the size of the 22-hectare park; $3 million for additional amenities, including new walking paths and wildlife crossings; and increase the number of trees in the park by 200.

It was unanimously approved by council in November.

Those opposed to the project say it cuts through a large, undisturbed portion of mature, natural park space and will splinter sensitive habitat areas for several species of birds and other types of wildlife.

However, the group failed to garner enough signatures on its petition to challenge the decision within the required time period.

Steven Pettigrew protests at Hawthorne Park in Surrey on Tuesday as the city begins work on a two-lane road. (Denis Dossman/CBC)

Despite this, Steven Pettigrew of the group Save Hawthorne Park still has faint hope the project can be stopped.

"Even though it's 11:59:59, we still haven't given up," Pettigrew said. "What they're doing is morally wrong."

"They say they're here to serve the city, but the city does not want this. They really, really need to listen to the people."

'Police officers will have to drag me out'

Cox, who is protesting the tree-cutting, says he's willing to get arrested for the cause.

"The police officers will have to drag me out. I will not be resisting. I will just stay limp," Cox said.

Project manager Victor Jhingan says he has spoken with the protesters.

"We've gone out there personally and asked them to leave on their own accord," Jhingan said.

"We're asking for them to protest outside of the area in a peaceful and lawful manner, to respect the construction zone not only for their own safety but the workers' safety."

Victor Jhingan, the project manager for the 105 Avenue Connector Project, says he's working to convince the protesters to leave on their own accord. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Jhingan said while the city is not considering a court injunction yet, it is "exploring all other options that may be needed to secure a safer site."

The project is expected to be completed in 2019 or 2020.

With files from Jesse Johnston, Liam Britten, and Meera Bains