River Road trees spared the axe

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

The old elm trees on River Road in Peace River are safe, at least for now.

The Town of Peace River had planned to do some infrastructure work on 99 St., but residents protested in April after noticing all of the local mature elms were marked for removal as part of the project.

Besides one heritage tree that would have been kept, 12 other trees were due to be cut down.

River Road residents contacted the Town and the work was halted.

Residents also hired in an arbourist to see if it was possible to do the work but still save the trees. The arbourist concluded the trees were valuable assets to the town and could likely be saved.

The Town offered the solution of having residents in the neighbourhood pay a local improvement levy of $185,000 over 20 years to do additional work as part of the construction project to allow the trees to remain.

Melanie Bekevich -Joos says residents hoped there were ways to proceed with the project that didn’t involve extra costs such as replacing the water main as well. Their petition reflected that.

“Our local improvement was the retention of the trees and we did consult our legal on this. We didn’t want to request a brand new water main because that’s not what we were up to. We didn’t actually believe that that was necessary. We thought there could be other ways this project was engineered, or perhaps they could take the arbourists report into account,” she says.

She adds more than two thirds of the neighbourhood were willing to pay for the costs to retain the trees and any incremental costs, but only those costs.

“At the end of the day the Town informed our community representative retention of trees does not fit within the definition of a local improvement and therefore deemed the petition invalid,” Bekevich-Joos says.

Town council discussed three different options for the trees at their Nov. 23 meeting while finalizing the 2020 work plan for neighbourhood infrastructure renewal.

Council heard the trees are in the road right-of-way and could legally be removed to complete the work as planned.

The second option would was to install a new water line which would have allowed some trees to remain but only with extensive pruning.

After almost an hour of debate, council agreed to the final option, and voted to delay infrastructure work on 99 St. for at least two to three years, and up to 10 years.

“Ten years is a little closer to having to replace both the sewer and the water line. If we’re deferring it for 10 years then the economics make a lot more sense,” says Town engineer Jim McCuaig.

In the meantime there will need to be increased sanitary sewer flushing and a manhole installed on River Road.

The Town will reallocate the remaining approved budget from the delayed work on River Road to work on 94 and 95 Ave between 96 and 98 Street instead. The area’s water and sewer lines are from the 1950s and are prone to breaks.

Residents in that area have also asked to have both avenues paved, and the town will present the option of a local improvement levy to do that work.

Councillor Johanna Downing notes there are also trees in that area of Peace River, and asked McCuaig if the Town might hear similar concerns.

However, McCuaig says the sewer and water lines can be moved to the middle of the street.

“That way we should be able to not effect as many of the trees as we’re looking at on River Road,” he says.

McCuaig adds he has learned he needs to be blunt with residents during consultations about any projects in future so they understand the full extent of what needs to be done.

Bekevich-Joos, who was one of four River Road area residents who attended the council meeting, says there will be mixed feelings among those who live on River Road about the Town’s decision.

“Certainly some people aren’t going to be happy about it because there are people who are planning construction of new residences on that street, so now the depth at which they place their sewer line, they’re going to have to anticipate when and if the new sewer main will be placed.”

Bekevich-Joos says one of the residents doing construction has already had to incur some extra costs related to adjusting his construction. She says there are people who have already moved their parking to the rear of their homes to accommodate the project.

“Everyone’s happy to see the trees stay. I’m actually very happy they’ll consider doing both lines at the same time because I believe that to be the fiscally prudent direction anyway if they’re going to dig up the road base and do all of the paving that’s required,” Bekevich-Joos says.

“I think Jim [McCuaig] was sincere when he talked about his learning about community engagement but I don’t think it should all rest on his shoulders either.

“Going forward, I just hope the Town consults residents on projects prior to awarding contracts, allowing them to be responsive to feedback,” she adds.

The $6.8 million infrastructure renewal project runs from 2018-21 and involves replacing streetlights, potable water, sanitary and storm sewer, curbs, sidewalks, and pavement in the south end of Peace River. The project is also designed to work with the 365 reservoir replacement which is currently under construction.

To date, work has been completed on 103 Street, 105 Ave., and 107 Ave., but council heard some unexpected deposits of sandstone have eaten up the project’s contingency budget.

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