Bluff clearcut catches many off guard

City-ordered work to remove vegetation divides community along White Rock’s waterfront.

Crews work to remove trees and other vegetation from the Marine Drive 'hump' last week.

Crews work to remove trees and other vegetation from the Marine Drive 'hump' last week.

White Rock residents were shocked to see the extent of “vegetation clearing” on the Marine Drive bluff last week, expressing anger and disbelief at the clearcutting of the hillside.

Several residents called Peace Arch News and took to social media last week to express their disappointment after work began to remove trees, shrubs and other vegetation along the ‘hump,’ work the city said was for “maintaining slope stability, increasing line of sight and eradicating invasive species.”

Historically, any such work in the area has been contentious.

Critics this year speculated that the clearing work was actually done to improve the views of Marine Drive residents along the stretch of waterfront, from the pier to Johnston Road.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to me,” said David Ludwar, a Columbia Avenue resident. “There’s got to be some other motivation in terms of why they’ve done what they’ve done.”

Not everyone was disappointed with the work, however.

In an email to PAN Thursday morning, resident Peter Dunik said the work opened up “gorgeous and inviting views of the pier, bay and rock for everyone.”

“This is how White Rock should present itself, with our unforgettable icons. Congratulations and thanks to White Rock mayor, council and the BNSF.”

City officials told PAN last week that the vegetation removal was part of the city’s capital project plan approved by council last month. The project includes plans to replant the bluff with vegetation that will help to “improve the stability and beautify the hillside.”

The clearing has presented no concerns for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway – which owns the land – according to a company spokesperson, who last week said the city had the railway’s approval to complete the work.

Gus Melonas added that BNSF had requested the city remove one particular tree that had been “interfering” with rail safety.

Several trees – which the city described as “non-protected” – were removed, and late last week more than a dozen cut logs could be seen stacked at the bottom of the hillside, adjacent to the train tracks.

According to the city’s tree-management bylaw, which was amended late last year, a tree is considered protected if its trunk diameter at breast height (DBH) is greater than 30 centimetres, or if it has a combined DBH of its three largest trunks that is greater than 30 cm.

Photos of several of the freshly cut trunks that were posted online by residents show the diameters of three measuring more than 40 cm.

Calls to city staff for clarification on whether the trees’ diameters were measured beforehand were not returned by PAN press deadline Tuesday.

Deputy-mayor Grant Meyer – currently filling in for Mayor Wayne Baldwin, who is out of the country – referred questions on the size of the trees to city staff.

Meyer told PAN he wants council to develop an “overall plan for the whole area” in the next couple of years.

“I’d like to see the area terraced out to add some green space,” he said, noting there is not much lawn along the waterfront. “I think we can really beautify the area and provide people with some usable green space.”

Regarding slope stability, Meyer said the addition of retaining walls – should the city decide to terrace the hillside into a usable space – would help strengthen the bluff.

Last week, Coun. David Chesney – a longtime opponent to tree removal on the bluff – told PAN the extent of the clearing was “ridiculous,” and asserted that the tree removal was being undertaken by the city to “improve the view of a couple dozen of their friends.”

Meyer disputed the suggestion.

“It’s obviously a benefit for some of those people, and that’s fine, but it’s not the sole reason or anything,” he said, noting he was not overly surprised to hear of criticism from the public regarding the tree and shrub removal.

“There are people who are going to criticize when you’re in public office every move you make, and that’s their right, they can do that,” he said.

“We’ll continue to press on.”

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