No charges against Coun. Blake Armstrong for destructive path in park

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No charges against Coun. Blake Armstrong for destructive path in park

A Saint John city councillor will not face criminal charges for his destructive foray through a city park on an excavator.

Saint John police say they have finished their investigation into Coun. Blake Armstrong, who provoked anger from nearby residents last November, when he took it upon himself to try to clear brush from Seaside Park on the west side.

"He wasn't doing it out of any maliciousness," Sgt. Charles Breen said in an interview on Monday.

​Breen said the councillor thought "he wasn't doing anything wrong" and had contacted someone with the city about his plans.

"Mr. Armstrong has reached a civil agreement with [the] city to reimburse the city for any damage that he created at the park," Breen said.

The amount Armstrong was asked to pay is unknown.

The file on the case has been referred to a city hall bylaw officer for review, Breen said.

Park destroyed

The investigation was launched in early December after Armstrong cleared a path in the city–owned park, saying later he wanted to restore the area to how he remembered it growing up.

When he was through, knotted branches and trunks of pine trees littered the ground.

Before the police investigation started, the Ward 1 councillor apologized at common council for his actions.

Following his apology, CBC published two more accounts showing Seaside Park wasn't the first time the councillor damaged public property without permission.

In an email, Armstrong said he received a visit "from a conservation officer" after using his excavator to remove rocks from the shoreline in Grand Bay–Westfield. 

The city also confirmed the councillor had dumped material on the west side by the Reversing Falls Bridge.

John Pottle, a west side resident, said he never expected charges to be laid, but hopes Armstrong was billed the full amount, including the cost of equipment needed to restore the land and for the work hours that crews could have spent in other areas of the city.

Disappointed in results of investigation

Nancy Ouellet, another resident affected by the damage, said she's not on a witch hunt but she was disappointed in the results of the investigation.

"I am disappointed they're giving such a light take to this," she said. "Just because the man can pay restitution … that doesn't happen to regular Joe–blows."

Although the trees that were torn down have now been cleaned up, the area is still a mess with all these pieces of dead wood everywhere," she said.

Seaside Park is where Ouellet went to remember her late daughter, Jasmine Cavanaugh, who liked to spend time there.

"It was important to [my daughter] but it was also important to me," Ouellet said. "Those of us that live in this area, I've lived here my whole life, that was our park."

Reached out to city beforehand

​The park was a central point for the whole community, said Ouellet.

"When I used to go, it used to give me a sigh of peace and serenity," she said. "Now when I go down it just stirs up anxiety. It makes me feel bad."

"He's taken away what joy and peace and serenity I used to get."

Armstrong did not respond to CBC's requests for an interview.

Breen said Armstrong hadn't received any permits for his brush work, although he contacted the city beforehand.

"The city feels that Mr. Armstrong had good intent to improve the park and not cause any destruction to the park," Breen said.