Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum was among approximately 100 residents that attended a “Save Hawthorne Park” rally Thursday evening.
The rally, at Our Lady of Good Counsel School (10504 139 St.), was held by opponents of the city’s proposed 105 Avenue Connector project, which includes building a road through the Surrey park.
McCallum, a South Surrey resident, said he was contacted by the opponents of the North Surrey road and decided to attend the rally to show support.
The former mayor told the Now-Leader the next day that he doesn’t understand the city’s justification for the road — which so far has been to move utilities off 104 Avenue in preparation for light rail, to connect Whalley Boulevard to 150 Street and that it’s been in the city’s Official Community Plan since 1986.
“Nothing in this makes sense,” McCallum said of Surrey’s plans, who questions running a road through a park for such reasons.
“I said I will continue to work for them behind the scenes and talk to some of the councillors,” he added.
After delivering a 5,000-name petition to Surrey council last month, opponents have until Sept. 22 to collect 30,372 signatures in opposition of the project in order to stop the civic government from proceeding with the project.
McCallum – who served as mayor from 1996-2005 – doubts that can be done.
“But my comment to them was to work really, really hard,” he said. “Even if you don’t reach the total number at least the councillors should listen to you if you end up with a huge number of signatures, even if you don’t reach your goal.”
Mayor Linda Hepner last month defended the project in a letter to the Now-Leader, saying that there has been misinformation spread about the project. Critics have since increased their efforts to halt to the project.
Thursday evening, organizers Steven Pettigrew, Ken Bennett and Grant Rice took to the podium and addressed the crowd with the intention of informing the group on the project and the movement against it.
Ken Bennett, a retired biologist who worked with both the City of Surrey and City of Richmond during his career, opened his remarks with, “This road is wrong. It’s absolutely wrong.”
Bennett gave the crowd an overview of Hawthorne Park’s features, including the species of flora and fauna that live there. He said that he knew one birder who had documented more than 50 bird species over the last 20 years.
“The bog also has a very well-developed understory,” he said. “It’s made up of salal, salmonberry, huckleberry and ferns and that’s where the small mammals, the birds, amphibians and reptiles are going to be.”
That understory would be threatened by the proposed development, according to Bennett.
Following Bennett’s talk on the park’s ecosystem, Grant Rice gave an overview of the proposed project and explained the alternative approval process that the Save Hawthorne Park group must go through in order to stop the project from going forward.
Rice also responded to the new renderings of the 105 Avenue project plans that were released earlier that day by the City of Surrey.
The largest change from the previous proposal was one of the two planned roads, the 142 Street connection to 104 Avenue, was dropped. Other changes included an increase in total parkland by one acre, a net increase of 200 trees and additional environmental habitat areas and new park amenities.
Rice expressed frusturation regarding the proposed park improvements. “What the hell is going on here?” he asked. “‘We will give you all this great stuff in the Hawthorne Park strategic plan, but you have to take a road.’”
“This park does need some work,” he said. “The ponds, there’s invasive species, and [the improvement work] should be done, but there shouldn’t be strings attached. It’s just dead wrong.”
The city’s promised net increase of 200 trees does not address the disruption of the park ecosystem, said volunteer Tracie Woodhams.
“They don’t say that they are going to keep the forest floor intact,” said Woodhams. “The mosses, the fungus, the insects, all the diversity of plant life.”
“They’re baby trees, they’re nursery trees, they’re not indigenous trees. And they’re rate of survival is very, very poor,” she said. “They’re going to make it a very sterile environment.”
Organizers set up areas where people could sign the Electors Response Form that the city is requiring the group to complete, and provided information regarding how to get involved with the Save Hawthorne Park group.
-with files from Amy Reid