Residents of 99 street in Peace River attended the regular meeting of town council on April 8 in a last minute bid to save the old trees on their street.
While one heritage tree will remain, twelve other mature trees between 105 ave and south to 109 ave have been marked for removal due to upgrades to the service connections and the aging valves and hydrants on the water main as part of the neighbourhood renewal program.
Residents said they learned the trees would be removed at an information session held the prior week.
Melanie Bekevich- Joos, Dave Viel, Laura Bekevich, Anne Sorensen and Lorainne Kalyn all made presentations to council on behalf of their neighbourhood trees.
The residents also read a letter from Stuart Barr and Jeannie Kalyn.
“We love the beauty of the neighbourhood and a big part of that is the mature trees. It likely could be considered a signature street. It’s right near the river, there are heritage homes on that street and the removal of those trees could significantly impact that. I think we could go on for quite some time about the value of trees and in particular mature trees,” Bekevich-Joos said.
Bekevich-Joos said residents had concerns around timelines and what they felt was lack of full consultation, and questioned whether experts like an arbourist had been consulted about which trees were actually at risk of falling over if they were not removed when ground work was done.
She also wondered if the true value of the trees had been accounted for in planning considerations and the bidding process.
“These are trees that are likely 60 to 80 years old. We don’t just snap our fingers and then they grow back. It takes decades, generations for these beautiful trees to grow back, as you’re all well aware,” she said.
While she said the residents appreciated CAO Chris Parker coming to take a look at the designated heritage tree personally on a Sunday, residents still felt they had little to no opportunity to explore options.
“I mean people chain themselves to trees as you’ve seen in different films and so forth and perhaps on the news, and we’re not proposing that we would do that but certainly we feel very strongly about these trees and the place that they play in natural beauty and our sense of history in our community.
“The lack of communication has been extremely frustrating and that’s why this is so last minute. I wish we were having this talk three years ago to possibly look at other options and look at saving the trees,” Dave Viel said. “But now the track hoes and all the equipment is ready to go and we’re sitting in front of you because we didn’t fully understand which trees were coming down.”
“I never would have thought I would be up here talking about trees at all. But there is an 80 to 90 year old elm tree in front of my house. I would love to know how old it is. I did some research because some people were saying well, that tree is at the end of its life cycle. They are actually fully matured at 150 years and live to about 300 years with the average in 175 to 200 years. This could be a tree that is so significant to our community. Why are we taking it down?”
“Especially with the American elm, because there was the elm disease , it is really becoming a rare tree,” resident Lorainne Kalyn said. “You know that in this weather it’s a short growing season, so to have trees that you can’t even touch your arms around in this community is amazing.”
“Our town has been going through a town beautification with various projects, like murals, banners and other things and I think this is just as important because it does add a lot of beauty to our town,” Laura Bekevich said.
Residents also asked if the option of fully replacing and moving the water main to the middle of the street instead of simply repairing it had been explored.
“Let me explain the neighbourhood renewal program,” Mayor Tom Tarpey replied. “So we increased taxes by roughly $1 million approximately six, seven years ago. That’s about $800,000 in today’s dollars. And what’s supposed to happen then is it gets matched by either gas tax money and/or municipal sustainable infrastructure money. So basically there is $1.6 million a year to put into this program and the program is designed to bring neighbourhoods back up to the original specifications.”
“So there isn’t a lot of money to spend on it, we need to keep moving on it, and the way we work the program is we triage, so those neighbourhoods, primarily ones with underground problems, sewer backups water main breaks, those ones get the top priority. So the areas on south half of Peace River were selected two or three years ago and broken up into 4 phases.”
However, Tarpey offered a way to save at least some of the trees.
“We can engineer a solution to save those trees but for that block in particular you’re talking about, that’s going to cost $185,000 to do,” he said. “$185,000 is a lot of money to this program. I don’t believe that the rest of the community, the other 6,835 people that are out there, are going to agree with putting in an extra $185,000 to basically put this pipe down the centre of the road.”
“Somebody had talked about these trees you’re willing to die for, I’m not asking you to die for the trees, but certainly we can work out an improvement levy, and that will be something on the order of $9700 and you can spread that out over 20 years,” Tarpey said. “But you do need to get a petition and you do need to get the people in that neighbourhood to sign up for that improvement levy.”
Council explained the cost could be spread out over up to 20 years, and added on to resident’s tax bills. Alisha Mody reviewed the different ways residents could divide the cost, and the project engineer reviewed the reasons for the decisions previously made and the engineered solution to the problem, which would save 7 of the 12 trees.
“We’ve met again and we’re moving forward with gauging interest from neighbours and looking at details with the Town. At this point it is fact finding and if it makes sense we’ll proceed. We’re also looking into grants available for preserving old trees,” Bekevich-Joos told the Express.
The neighbourhood group has met with the Town to review what would need to be included in a petition. If the residents go ahead with a petition, they will have until the end of the month to get the signatures required to save the local trees. Residents need two thirds of the local property owners and a min 50% of the tax assessment to agree to a levy in order to save their local trees.