The Ottawa airport authority will move ahead with clear cutting a forest on Hunt Club Road citing public safety concerns, despite thousands of people signing a petition opposing the plan.
In a letter addressed to Ottawa residents and the Hunt Club community on Monday, the airport authority called the decision "difficult" but necessary, given "this neglected plantation's dangerous state."
The plantation it's referring to is a red pine woodland located at 400 Hunt Club Rd., which roughly covers four hectares. It was established in the early 1960s, with the intention of harvesting the pine trees for lumber and to make telephone poles.
However, it's a site that locals have enjoyed recreationally for years and have fought to save in the past. In 2021, residents rallied against plans for a BMW dealership to expand its parking lot.
"While we understand that there will be members of the community upset by this news, safety is of paramount importance to the Ottawa Airport Authority," reads the letter, posted on its website.
The authority said it has explored other options, including a land swap with the city, but those were "proven unattainable."
It said assessments, including from the City of Ottawa, have all concluded the forest has remained neglected for decades — leaving the trees "in poor condition and are unable to support their own weight" and susceptible to breaking in extreme weather.
It added the site "lacks significant wildlife presence and biodiversity overall" with frequent occurrences of trespassing, illegal dumping and vandalism.
The red pine woodland on Hunt Club Road covers roughly four hectares. (Google Maps)
The authority said the only way to make sure the area is safe is if the airport authority removes the trees.
"The failure to proceed with the tree removal on this site poses a tangible and immediate threat to public safety, which we cannot overlook," the letter continued.
The airport authority concluded by saying it would begin clear cutting in the days or weeks to come.
Once cleared, the land will be marketed for development.
'A gut punch'
"To claim that there's a threat to us and the general threat to the public safety is absolute nonsense," said Michael Vorobej, who lives nearby and is a member of Save Hunt Club Forest, a group that formed two years ago to fight development on the land.
A petition started by the group has garnered more than 21,000 signatures.
"As a community, we have used this forest and enjoyed it for walking our dogs or jogging or riding our bikes or just watching the birds or just getting some fresh air," he said.
Jennifer Dey, a member of the same group, called the news "a gut punch."
"It's really disappointing that [in] this day and age, we can't quite figure out that we're not entitled to just clear whatever we see in our sights," she said.
A nearby resident walks through the Hunt Club forest regularly. Many nearby residents have used the forest recreationally for years. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)
The group argues the forest is not only safe, but avoided any significant damage from last year's Derecho storm, which destroyed thousands of trees across the region.
The members of Save Hunt Club Forest said they've also been tracking the biodiversity in the area and that there are hundreds of different specifies that currently call the forest home.
Cutting down the trees would not only eliminate their habitat, but also a source of clean oxygen, they said.
Dey and Vorobej said the group planned to meet Monday evening to discuss next steps but has every intention of fighting the airport authority's decision.
They've been working with local councillors, including Riley Brockington who has previously voiced his opposition to clear cutting the forest, but said they have yet to receive any support from upper levels of government.