The trees on the Lot 1/9 started coming down at 10:30 Wednesday morning in preparation for construction of the Olympic Celebration Plaza and the post-Games park.
The Village Stroll was quiet, and there were no on-lookers when the construction workers went to work on the first batch of trees adjacent to Whistler Brewhouse Pub and Blackcomb Way.
The trees along Blackcomb Way were targeted first because of their small size, said Michele Comeau-Thompson, manager of communications for the municipality.
She said most of the trees slated for cutting would come down by the end of Wednesday, but it was unlikely construction workers would be able to cover the entire site in a single day.
Some trees on the site will require more complicated deforestation techniques, added Comeau-Thompson, especially trees that are dead or heavily leaning to one side.
Last week, municipal workers alerted businesses clustered around the Village Stroll that construction on the site was going to commence.
“We hand-delivered notices to all adjacent businesses and property owners, and introduced ourselves to let them know if they have any questions, we are here to help out,” said Martin Parode, resort parks planner for the municipality.
“Generally all the people I spoke with were positive about the project, and only one person had a negative comment. Most were positive, enthused, and saw this as a great opportunity to the resort.”
The municipality also sent out a construction notice to local media, businesses, and property owners on the afternoon of Friday, May 23. The notice gave an overview of the construction schedule to 2010. Construction and site preparation over the coming summer months includes clearing, grubbing, grading and tree/vegetation retention and removal, and pre-loading.
Pardoe added that forestry consultants BA Blackwell have conducted a hazard tree assessment and look at the tree protection proposals, and are satisfied with the municipality’s plans.
Through these consultations the clump of trees that will be protected on the Lot 1/9 site has changed slightly, but a large portion of the trees at the north end of the site, as well as those paralleling Blackcomb Way, will still be retained, said Pardoe.
“I am looking forward to getting this project underway and moving towards the Games,” said Pardoe.
The trees on the Lot 1/9 site, where the Olympic Celebration Plaza will be built, have been the subject of much debate over the past few months, highlighted by a peaceful protest staged in mid-March by local group Whistler Watch and a petition with approximately 500 signatures which was presented to council at the beginning of April. An anonymous campaigner also decorated the trees late last year with colourful ornaments that had messages written on them like “Save me, I’m a Christmas Tree.”
Many residents say the trees have important sentimental value for Whistler and should be maintained, even though the plot of land has been slated for development since it was purchased by the municipality in the mid-1990s.
Despite these controversies, Whistler Watch has no current plans to protest the Lot 1/9 development this week, according to member Stephen Volger.
No councillors watched the trees go down Wednesday morning, since most are away in Quebec this week for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference.