Officials at New Orleans City Park are threatening legal action after a third trespasser climbed a tree at a construction site to protest a new golf course being built on a portion of the park’s Couturie Forest.
The park’s statement Saturday night came two days after a group called the City Park for Everyone Coalition filed a lawsuit in federal court in an effort to stop work on the course.
On Saturday morning, another group of protesters — identifying themselves with the social media hashtag “Wild Is Free” — said a man named “Beaux” had climbed an oak tree that was supposed to be cut down that day. His action followed that of another man protesting the golf course, Jonathan “Lloyd” Boover, who had to receive medical attention after he fell Tuesday from a tree he had inhabited for more than a week.
Boover was initially joined by a woman known as “Heart,” but she voluntarily came down from the tree.
City Park issued a statement Saturday night decrying what officials called “criminal activities.” In the statement, park Chief Executive Officer Bob Becker said Beaux was accompanied for a while by others in possession of at least two incendiary devices.
“This criminal act comes after numerous incidents of individuals illegally destroying property and harming park grounds during the last two weeks,” Becker said. “Individuals destroying park property and trespassing on an active construction site are endangering themselves and others using the park.”
At issue is a $24.5 million public golf course that has been in the works for the better part of a decade. The space was once part of a larger City Park golf complex, but it has become a haven for wildlife since flooding from Hurricane Katrina ruined the courses that were once there.
Both the “Wild Is Free” campaign and the City Park for Everyone Coalition say that instead of building the new course, park officials should allow nature to prevail.
Proponents say the course will bring much-needed funds to the park, in the form of more than $1 million a year. Moreover, according to park officials, any trees removed during the construction process will be more than replaced in the park in years to come.
Park officials said Saturday that 110 fairway trees will be removed during construction but 500 others will be planted this year and next year. They said the park has planted more than 6,000 trees since Katrina — three times the number lost in the storm.
Meetings between the two sides have done little to ease the controversy.
In a news release Tuesday, the “Wild Is Free” group admonished City Park officials for cutting down the tree Boover had occupied before another protester could take his place. The group claimed that a “legitimate” process to protest the course’s construction — speaking out at a meeting of the park’s board — was undermined when the tree was “sneakily killed” while protesters waited to deliver their statements.
“Today, a one-two blow was struck against the struggle to stop the golf course,” the group said. The first blow came when Boover, “due to the fatigue and malnourishment imposed on him by authorities,” slipped and fell out of his tree. Although he was able to climb back up it until supporters arrived, ultimately he came down “to receive medical attention for what may be a broken ankle and nose. First he was taken to the hospital, then to (jail) for booking,” the group said. “The second blow came when park officials cut down the tree, an old-growth cypress, that Lloyd and Heart were trying to save.”
One day later, the City Park for Everyone Coalition filed a federal suit against City Park and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in an attempt to stop the course’s construction. The park is using money it received from FEMA after Katrina to build the course.
“While the coalition has tried numerous ways to convince the leadership of City Park to halt construction of a golf course development north of Harrison Avenue, the park has charged full steam ahead with construction. Of immediate concern is the bulldozing of several acres of previously undeveloped wetlands in the Old Couturie Forest,” the coalition said in a news release.
“City Park does not have the federally required permit for this development. The coalition is asking the court to order an injunction that ceases construction and requires City Park to fully comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Louisiana Public Trust Doctrine.”
The coalition added that it believes the golf course is “likely to be an economic failure” and is “not wanted by the majority of the people of New Orleans.”
Then, on Saturday, City Park officials released their statement, threatening legal action of their own.
According to Becker, at least four individuals wearing masks vandalized the construction site, tearing open a fence and placing a sign made out of sticks that read, “Die You Scum.”
According to Becker, one of the people climbing the fence had incendiary devices.
“The discovery of these incendiary devices has caused us and local law enforcement great concern for the safety of our visitors and the park itself,” Becker said.
He added that City Park has had to hire safety and security personnel to monitor the protests.
“These services cost City Park $1,000 per day,” he said. “We will hold each person responsible for any illegal activity and pursue the personal repayment of all costs caused by them.”
Park officials denied claims that they didn’t invite the public to meetings about the new golf course. The first public hearing was held in 2005, and four hearings have been held since then, they said.
Becker added that the course underwent environmental review and received all necessary permits from FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and that “many” meetings were held with neighborhood associations and business organizations.
During those meetings, he said, park officials agreed to reduce the amount of land devoted to golf by 200 acres. Prior to Katrina, City Park had four golf courses. After the new course is finished, it will have two.
On Sunday morning, Beaux, the latest tree-climbing protester, released a video taking credit for a temporary halt in construction.
“Today has been a really good day so far. I’m a bit sore. This is my second day on the job. But the machines are gone! I don’t think they want to be on camera or want to be seen, which is a really good thing,” he said.
Saying he had temporarily climbed out of the tree to recharge his battery pack, he said he planned to climb back up into the tree later Sunday.