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UPDATE: 300-year-old tree near Wakefield to be cut down today for highway expansion

People gather on January 7 at the Mother Tree grove to be cut today.

It is expected that a massive 300-year-old white pine tree, more than 100 feet in height and with a trunk 19 feet in circumference, will be cut down at 10 am this morning in order for the four-lane Highway 5 expansion, a Harper government economic stimulus project, to continue near Wakefield, Quebec.

The highway will also require the blasting of rock in a water recharge area very close to where the tree now stands. This has led to concerns that the Valley Drive Spring, a popular water source in Wakefield accessed by thousands of people, could be contaminated. The provincial environmental assessment conducted more than 25 years ago did not look at the hydrological aspects of the highway expansion. A preliminary Transport Canada assessment determined the project could contaminate the local aquifer. The federal ministry later stated though that with “any mitigation measures that the responsible authorities consider appropriate, the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects…”

However, there are already reports that a construction company bulldozer almost drove over a nearby well – stopped only by local residents shouting at the driver – and just yesterday the clearcutting equipment accidentally knocked down a nearby power transmission line.

While the highway itself will not be constructed in this sector for about a year, the construction plan calls for the trees to be cut now. Local Wakefield residents challenged this approach in court earlier this week, but a judge ruled there was an “urgency” to this clearcutting and granted the Ministry of Transportation Quebec a provisional injunction stopping any tree-siting or protests to block the clearcutting from taking place. Local residents had also proposed alternate highway designs that are less environmentally destructive than the 25-year-old design that is now being used, but those have been ignored by authorities. Concerned residents also note that these alternate plans are better with respect to local highway safety.

The provisional injunction granted by the judge on Monday extends until another court date on March 5, but it’s clear that the ministry and construction company are seeking to cut the ‘mother tree’, which has served as a rallying point for many, as soon as possible to dishearten and dissuade other ongoing protests against the highway.