Clear cutting for a clear flight path

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Public Works personnel recently cut down four healthy trees by the Civic Centre in Chatham, which raised concern from a number of citizens on social media. Municipal officials said the trees were removed because they were obstructions in the path of the Ornge air ambulances flying in and out of the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance. (Image courtesy James Snyder, Facebook)

By Bruce Corcoran

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent took the chainsaws to four healthy trees recently in front of the Civic Centre, but officials said the decision was out of their hands.

Ryan Brown, director of Public Works for the municipality, said the trees are in the registered flight path of Ornge air ambulances flying in and out of the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance across the Thames River from the Civic Centre.

“Here in Public Works, we were in communication with the hospital. The helipad has a registered flight path with Transport Canada,” he said. “This is the approach and this is the take off. The path comes from the helipad toward the Civic Centre a bit.”

Hospital officials said the cutting is being done purely for safety reasons.

“CKHA had an independent firm do an audit recently on our helipad for safety standards and it was noted that several trees needed to be trimmed or taken down to not interfere with the flight path,” officials said in an e-mail to The Chatham Voice. “Some of these trees were on the municipality’s property and we informed the municipality of the audit findings and left to them the decision to trim or remove the trees.”

Brown added there cannot be any obstructions along that flight path.

(Image courtesy James Snyder, Facebook)

At first, municipal arborists tried to save the trees by taking the top off one, but they did not hold out hope for a good response from the deciduous trees.

“Our arborists went out and assessed it. Trees don’t like being topped. You can trim them and they’ll be healthy, but they really don’t like having their tops cut off,” he said. “They did try to top the first one, but the arborists weren’t happy with how the tree was doing after we did that. That’s why we made the decision to remove them.”

Brown said it is his understanding several trees will be removed near the hospital, and on private property as well, all due to the flight path for the Ornge helicopters.

He added it is unfortunate that trees are being removed, but stressed it is only along the specific route.

“The flight path is a very narrow zone. Other trees further down by the Civic Centre are fine,” he said.

(Image courtesy James Snyder, Facebook)

As for replacing the ones that are lost, Brown said he is not sure what the municipality will do.

“It’s probably not the best place to plant trees. But if they do plant something, perhaps they will be more shrub-like,” he said.

Brown said he understands some folks are unhappy to see the loss of healthy trees in a municipality with limited tree cover.

“Our policy is we do not cut down healthy trees in general. But when Transport Canada is involved, that supersedes any municipal practices,” he said. “I don’t like to see healthy trees come down either.”

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