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Pickering residents upset by Beachpoint Promenade tree removal

Around 160 trees along Beachpoint Promenade are being removed to accommodate road widening and other plans for the reconstruction of Rotary Frenchman’s Bay West Park, but residents say it looks more like clear-cutting than conservation.
April 5, 2018
Kristen Calis

Residents are criticizing the removal of large, old trees on the lake in Pickering, calling the recent work clear-cutting and vastly different from how they envisioned the area.

“This is disgusting. Yes, I believe in doing pruning. This is devastation,” Debbie Kent said as a group of residents met near the lake, in the West Shore area, a contractor cutting down trees nearby.

“This is not consideration for the environment,” fellow resident Jan Kimble said.

The City of Pickering and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) made the decision to remove around 160 trees along Beachpoint Promenade to accommodate road widening and other plans for the phase 1 reconstruction of Rotary Frenchman’s Bay West Park. The city informed residents abutting the park and community groups of the tree removal, but many say they didn’t know it would be so extreme.

 “Not within our lifetime or our kids’ lifetimes are we going to see a recovery from this,” Heather Jakobsen, who is a wildlife photographer, said. “It’s devastating. I don’t know how the city has thought this through properly.”

Jakobsen shared concerns for the vast wildlife that live in the area.

Removed trees include hazardous and invasive species, such as Manitoba maple, Buckthorn and Tree of Heaven.

“These all over time will get rotted out and fall down and potentially cause risk to our residents,” said Arnold Mostert, Pickering’s senior co-ordinator of landscape and parks development.

The tree removal also included healthy trees within the construction area.

“We will be widening that road to standards and providing lay-by parking down each side to provide proper parking within the park,” said Mostert.

The tree branches and understorey vegetation will be chipped and the large logs will be collected for reuse in various restoration projects by the TRCA.

As part of the phase 1 plans, the city will plant 168 native trees, 1,060 native shrubs, and a large area of wild flowers and grasses in this area of redevelopment.

Other phase 1 plans include an enhanced trail system, pedestrian crossings and an educational area.

“As Pickering develops, obviously there will be more demand for people to come to the waterfront so we have to provide safe and accessible access to these residents,” said Mostert.

Karen McDonald, TRCA’s manager of restoration projects, said pedestrians currently walk anywhere, trampling vegetation as they go.

“The master plan will see improvements to this,” she said.

She understands it’s tough for residents to watch the tree removal.

“It’s too bad but in the end it’s going to result we think in a better system both for nature and for people,” she said.

Ward 1 city Coun. Maurice Brenner said in an email “at some point given the conditions we have experienced last year with extensive flooding, the same removal and regeneration would have been necessary sooner than later to project the balance in this sensitive area.”

Following Hurricane Hazel in 1954, the TRCA acquired waterfront property and put it into public ownership. It purchased small cottages lining Beachpoint Promenade and demolished them. The rest of the land features remained untouched but over time the area became overgrown with other invasive tree species.

In 2001, Pickering entered into a management agreement with the TRCA and a number of plans were prepared for park improvements.

After thorough community consultations, Pickering council approved the Rotary Frenchman’s Bay West Park Master Plan in 2012.

“The plan has been prepared to provide a balance between public access and the preservation of the environmentally sensitive areas within the park,” said Mostert.

But many residents feel the plans taking shape are starkly different from what they saw in earlier planning stages.

“It’s great to finally see action being taken but unfortunately the plan ignores many recommendations made over the years, particularly those maintaining the Promenades’ natural state as much as possible. The community believes this can be achieved while also addressing accessibility limitations in its present state,” Pickering West Shore Community Association president Andre Pilon said.

From 1997 to 1998, resident David Steele was chairperson of the Pickering Citizens Taskforce to develop a comprehensive citizens’ vision of the waterfront. With help from residents, subcommittees, stakeholders and staff of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust and the TRCA, the task force brought forward its vision.

Steele said the construction plan is nowhere near the plans that were developed in 2012 and noted residents have seen five different plans for the area referred to as the West Spit.

“This one is the worst,” he said in a letter.

Steele questions why the budget for phase 1 soared in 2018 and noted further plans for a motorized boat launch are opposed by PWSCA.