The Ottawa Airport Authority (OAA) is moving forward with a plan to cut down trees from the Hunt Club Pine Plantation, despite community efforts to stop the land from being developed.
In a statement Monday, the airport authority said its decision to remove the trees was motivated by its commitment to keep the community safe given the “neglected plantation’s dangerous state.”
The airport authority said failing to move forward with tree removal on the site would pose a “tangible and immediate threat” to public safety, especially given recent natural disasters such as the 2022 derecho, adding that studies from consultants found that trees on the land are in poor condition, with the site lacking significant wildlife presence.
“It’s entirely about community safety,” said Krista Kealey, spokesperson for the OAA. “We would be remiss if we allowed an unsafe situation to continue, especially going into the winter months where we know weather events, heavy snow can cause even more damage. Those trees are very, very tall, they’re very, very thin. When one tree falls, they bring more with them. It’s just an unsafe situation.”
Kealey said the airport is still working with a contractor to decide when tree removal will begin, but said it will be in the days or weeks ahead. The OAA then plans to market the land for development.
She added that plans to develop the land have been in the works since the existence of the airport authority, adding that some parts of the property have already been developed.
In October 2021, OAA president and CEO Mark Laroche sent a letter to former mayor Jim Watson indicating that the airport authority had been “actively marketing” the development of the 10-acre parcel of land on Hunt Club Road. At the time, the authority was in talks with its tenant, Otto’s BMW, which was looking to expand its leased land by up to approximately 3.5 acres to build a parking lot.
Around the same time, a petition , which has since received 21,252 signatures, titled “Save the Hunt Club Forest in Ottawa,” was launched to speak out against the clearing and development of the land. A neighbourhood rally was also held to denounce the development application.
Otto’s BMW later withdrew its application to build into the forest.
In the letter, Laroche said that if the city preferred that the land be retained for community recreational use, the OAA would offer to lease them the land until 2077. But after the city failed to take the authority up on its offer, stating in a letter dated from November 2021 that the public hoped to “preserve the red pine plantation, maintain it as an environmental feature, and provide connectivity to the community,” the OAA sent another letter to the mayor the following month stating that it had “no choice but to move forward with development.”
The OAA’s Monday news release shared that the decision to remove the trees was “not taken lightly,” noting that “all options were explored to find a mutually agreeable solution,” including a land swap with the City of Ottawa in replacement of 400 Hunt Club Rd.
“When we had early conversations with the city a couple of years ago, they asked if we would consider looking at a land swap,” Kealey said. “We said we would, and they got back to us with a couple of different options, but for a variety of reasons, it didn’t work. There were environmental sensitivities, there were size inconsistencies and other issues that just wouldn’t make sense for us to do that.”
The decision to cut down the trees has already sparked outrage from the community.
“After years of successfully fighting off the #Ottawa Airport Authority’s attempt of cutting down Hunt Club Forest, the community has now been informed that they once again intend on cutting it down,” Horizon Ottawa wrote Monday on X, formerly Twitter. “Shameful, we need to fight back.”
Jessica Bradley, councillor for Gloucester-Southgate, said she was also disappointed by the news.
“Despite this land being entirely federally owned, I am disappointed by this news and had hoped through the many efforts of the city, airport authority and the community that we would have found a better outcome. Particularly in a climate crisis,” Bradley said. “Thank you to the tireless advocacy of community members and to my colleagues who have worked to find alternative solutions.”
Manuel Costa, who founded the Save Hunt Club Forest community group, said the organization is looking to plan an emergency meeting, possibly involving city councillors, to determine how to respond to the airport authority’s plans to cut down the forest.
“The airport says this is just useless forest, that it was not planted to stay alive, that it’s not a national forest, that it’s not maintained,” Costa said. “I don’t care why the trees were planted or not planted, they are there now and they serve a purpose.”
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