By Trevor Greenway and Madeline Kerr
Diane Lemire was in tears on the morning of Aug. 30 as crews with the municipality of Chelsea ripped out her 70-year-old apple tree after she pleaded with them to save it.
Lemire said she had an agreement with one of the engineers who told her that they would likely have to trim some branches on the tree to widen the road for a River Road rehabilitation project, but that they would do everything they could to save it.
But when the machines showed up on the morning of Aug. 30, there was no engineer on site, and the workers began chopping down several trees on her and her partner Dan Mallette’s Cascades property – cedars, pines and maples that the couple had planted themselves over 20 years ago – as well as the prized apple tree that has been there longer than they have.
“It was breaking my heart because I work in landscaping and I know that tree has been there forever since we moved here,” said Lemire from her porch a day after crews ripped out her trees. “And it's beautiful when it blooms. And when people walk down the road, it's something to look at. We get apples from that tree and people have been coming here forever to get apple trees.”
Lemire said she confronted workers before they began cutting and told them that there was an agreement to save the apple tree. But the situation quickly escalated, with Lemire refusing to move out of the way when one of the workers yelled, “Pull her trees out!” Workers then called the police to calm the situation, and Lemire was left to watch her old-growth apple tree get ripped out and piled on the side of the road.
“I’m sorry for the tree,” Lemire said, wiping away tears.
She said what angers her most is the lack of communication from the municipality. She said she wonders why there was nobody from the municipality on site when the tree was cut — especially when the cops were called and the situation escalated.
“There was nobody from the municipality there,” said Lemire. “Where's the environmental guy? Who is the guy that's supervising the event? Who's here from the municipality? None of them were there. The cops showed, and by that time they had pulled the tree out, I was crying.”
Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard ignored the Low Down’s questions on the matter and refused to answer specific questions face-to-face with reporters during an emergency meeting for concerned citizens in Farm Point a day after the tree was cut on Sept. 1.
Guénard instead deferred to director-general Sheena Ngalle Miano, who said that the tree in question was on the municipal right-of-way and “was cut down according to the original plans approved by all the authorities involved.”
“The team spoke with the resident to see if it was possible to save the tree. However, they had to cut it down as the tree would have died anyway due to the fill that will be put in shortly," she added.
During the last council meeting on Aug. 22, Guénard told residents that the municipality is trying to save every tree possible and that experts are “on the site on a regular basis, if not daily” to supervise the work. But that was not the case on Aug. 30, and Lemire and her partner Mallette said they don’t buy the talk from the mayor.
“That's nonsense,” said Mallette. “This thing about saving trees. Have you seen what they did?” he asked, referring to Phase 1 of the rehabilitation project that saw most of the Farm Point shoreline get clear cut with vegetation and trees pulled out and replaced by giant white rocks.
The couple said they are frustrated over receiving “last minute information” about the work — Lemire said she was alerted Aug. 29 via a letter that work would begin the next day.
Farm Point Coun. Rita Jain, who recently told the Low Down that she has been left in the dark on many details of this project, wasn’t even invited to the emergency meeting hosted by Mayor Guénard and director-general Miano on Sept. 1. She showed up anyway after learning about it from her constituents. During that meeting, Guénard again told residents that experts are on the ground supervising the work, and added that he personally has visited the site six times since returning from holiday on Aug. 6.
At that meeting, many of the nine residents’ concerns were around a lack of communication. Resident Ted Patterson said he has had to rely on getting information from the workers on the ground, not from engineers, environmental experts or anyone from the municipality. “It's about communication, and you've really fallen down on that,” he said. “People don't know what's going to happen to their property, and that's a problem.”
Guénard responded by saying there was a recent council meeting where information was shared, and added that the municipality showed citizens a PowerPoint presentation detailing the work before construction began.
But residents weren’t buying it.
“It's one thing to make a PowerPoint presentation, but it's another thing to have real dialogue," said resident Francois Rainville. “There's a difference between the plan and the details — once the details come in, that's when you have to include us in the conversation...let's work together."