White Rock residents demand plans for hillside

City hall petitioners told Marine Drive tree-removal an 'engineering project.'

City-contracted crews work to remove trees and other vegetation on the Marine Drive hillside earlier this month. Below

Emotions ran high at White Rock City Hall Monday, when a resident addressed council and staff about the “devastating” tree removal on the Marine Drive hillside.

Speaking on behalf of a delegation called ‘Friends of the Hump on Marine Drive,’ Monica Contois peppered civic officials with questions about the work – described by the city as “vegetation removal” – which began earlier this month.

“What is your plan for the next phase of this project, and do you plan on informing the citizens of White Rock in a timely manner?” Contois read from a prepared statement. “What is your plan for the eagle tree and will it remain standing? How do you plan on stabilizing the area that has been clearcut?”

Contois, a 35-year White Rock resident, told council she has collected more than 300 signatures from residents and visitors who don’t approve of the clearing work. She spent much of the day May 14 speaking with passersby to garner support, and said she has only encountered three people who were happy with the removal of foliage.

“Not surprisingly, those people owned and/or resided in the condos directly across the street, thus enhancing their ocean view,” she said.

Greg St. Louis, the city’s director of engineering and municipal services, disputed that the hillside had been “clearcut,” and said the removal of trees and shrubs was necessary to allow for repairs of the retaining wall at the top of the bluff.

“This is not a beautification project, it’s an engineering project,” St. Louis said.

He noted the city was in the process of inspecting and repairing several retaining walls.

“In order to undertake some of the work, some of the vegetation has to be removed,” he said.

St. Louis confirmed the ‘eagle tree’ – a large conifer that attracts bald eagles – would not be removed. He said other significant trees, measuring more than 31 centimetres at chest height, per the city’s tree-management bylaw, would also remain, “unless there are issues structurally.”

Mayor Wayne Baldwin – who intervened several times to address outbursts from attendees – thanked the delegation for bringing the issue to council.

“I know you’re passionate about it and we respect your passion and we respect your concerns,” he said. “We will be doing all we have to do to make this a better place… and I’m sure that in the end, you will be happy with it and that it will be better than what it was previously. And if not, then I’m sure you’re going to let us know.”

Coun. Helen Fathers said she is unhappy with the communication efforts leading up to the work, and said she was surprised at how much was removed.

“We all knew that we voted in the budget for $80,000 for vegetation management, but I can tell you from my personal perspective that I didn’t realize it was going to be to the extent that it is,” Fathers said, reflecting on publicizing the city’s intentions. “We did a piss-poor job of communicating that.”

Though Fathers’ comments garnered applause, council abruptly moved on to the next agenda item, prompting Contois and about eight others to angrily walk out of council chambers.

Speaking to Peace Arch News the next day, Contois said she was disappointed with the meeting.

“Nothing got addressed,” she said. “They didn’t give us a plan for what the future holds and what the plan looks like. There’s nothing in place.”

Contois said the comments regarding the retaining wall were “a bunch of crap” to justify improving residents’ ocean views.

“Rebuilding that retaining wall has nothing to do with removing all the old growth and all the trees that should have been left in,” she said.

Contois said she plans to draft a freedom-of-information request to find out what the city has planned for the hillside.

“The people living here have a right to know what’s going on.”

Calls this week to the city requesting details of the plan were not returned by PAN press time Thursday.

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