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Neighbours furious over 'path of destruction' tree removal in McCormick Park

Residents near McCormick Park near Quebec Street say work to improve drainage and expand the pond doesn't

Work is part of city project to improve drainage, residents say the tree cost is 'overkill'

Crews are cutting trees along the shore of the stormwater pond in McCormick park. The work is part of a city project to enlarge the pond to increase its capacity as a way to prevent sewer backups and flooding after major rainstorms. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Mary Beechie isn't happy to see scores of mature trees fall to the chainsaws this week in McCormick Park, not far from where she lives in Old East Village. 

Beechie makes regular visits to the park and takes walks around its storm water management pond, which lies between the railway tracks and a row of houses on Connaught Avenue, just east of Quebec Street. 

Mary Beechie is a frequent visitor to McCormick park and says the tree removals along the shore of the pond amount to overkill. 'This park is a gem in Old East Village, or at least it was a gem,' she said. (Andrew Lupton/CBC )

"This is absolutely ridiculous what they're doing," Beechie told CBC News as she stood in the snow and watched the trees topple. "All of the trees around us are slated to come down and that's overkill. I say that this needs to be halted immediately. This is a path of destruction." 

Crews from Davey Tree Care Services arrived in the park this week and began to cut down trees along the shore of the pond. Complaints about the work were posted up on neighbourhood Facebook groups, with some bewildered residents asking why so many trees were being removed in a park operated by a city with a stated goal of expanding the urban tree canopy. 

Mature trees along the north shore of the pond, the park's signature feature, are now painted with white rings to indicate they're slated for removal. 

Annette Fraleigh lives nearby on Glasgow Street and often takes her kids to the park. 

"For an urban area, it's such a great resource and sanctuary," said Fraleigh. "We've seen red-tailed hawks, turtles, it's just been so important for kids to see those aspects of nature you often miss in an urban area. I just feel like there's a better way that this could have been done." 

This graphic shows the park with the existing stormwater pond which is set to be expanded. An old reservoir at the east end of the park will also be removed. (City of London)

So why are so many trees coming down? 

It's all part of a city engineering project to improve storm water management in the area and reduce flooding and sewer backups. The plans call for the pond in the park to be enlarged by about 50 per cent and to be transformed into a dry pond that will only hold water after a significant storm. 

It's tied to planned infrastructure upgrades on streets north of the park that will remove sewer lines and separate them from the storm water system. This reduces the problem of sewage mixing with storm water after major rainstorms and backing up into basements.

The project, called the Mornington Pond Expansion, was the subject of an environmental assessment that started back in 2017 and was completed in the spring of 2019. It was approved at a March 2019 meeting of the city's civic works committee. The project is mentioned on the Get Involved section on the city's website. However, some residents who spoke to CBC News for this story said the scope of the tree removals was never made clear. 

Similar complaints were made by residents in the Wonderland Road and Riverside Drive area about the Mud Creek restoration. That project also had a stated aim to improve drainage and prevent flooding but residents were shocked to see the work left the entire creek-bed shorn of trees.

Shawna Chambers, a storm water engineer with the City, said McCormick Park will be replanted and restored after the pond is enlarged in work that is set to happen this year. She admits the site won't be pretty for a while. 

Annette Fraleigh is a regular visitor to the park and says she can't believe improving the drainage and infrastructure in the area requires the removal of so many mature trees. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

"We always try to minimize the amount of mature trees that come down," she said.

Chambers said invasive tree species on the site will be replaced with "high-quality native species" and improved landscaping and pathways. 

"I think it will be quite impressive when we're done," said Chambers. "It's a lot of short-term pain for medium- to long-term gain. In the end, we believe this will look like a healthy place and a nice place for the public to do their walks and enjoy nature." 

This white paint indicates which trees are slated for removal. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Chambers said residents whose properties line the park were notified of the tree removals, but some said they felt blind-sided at suddenly seeing that many trees come down at once. 

Beechie said the city's "cut everything" approach will mean residents on Connaught Avenue and visitors to the park will be looking at trains where once they saw trees. 

"I wish I saw more neighbourhood people here today because this park is a gem of Old East Village, or it was a gem," she said.


How many trees will be cut? 

This document shows a map of the park with the location of all the trees that are slated for removal. 

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