City council passed a motion on Tuesday that would require the Public Works Department to “provide adequate notice to residents” when removing three or more trees as part of an upgrade project.
It would also require administration to explore all options for preserving “the community character and urban canopy” in established neighbourhoods.
Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha brought the matter forward at the Sept. 21 regular council meeting where it was tabled before being brought back.
The motion passed by a 6-3 margin after a recorded vote with Botha, Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller, Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp, Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody, Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards and Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky voting for the motion. Opposed were Mayor Greg Dionne, Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski and Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick.
Botha amended the motion to add a third point: “that administration refer back to city council with a report and recommendations including possible policies, and reference the City’s forestation plan as it relates to projects covered by this motion.” After discussion this was added as a subsection of the second part of the motion.
“It’s not just about what happened on 12th street east but it’s about looking ahead on some of the other established neighbourhoods and communities that we have in the city. (It’s about) making sure we don’t have a repeat of what happened and ultimately to continue to become better at communicating to our residents,” Botha said.
Botha brought the motion forward after residents in his ward said they weren’t given enough notice before crews began chopping down trees as part of a water, sewer and lead service connector replacement project on 12th Street East.
Currently, residents receive seven days’ notice before crews start above ground projects, like chopping down trees, and two weeks’ notice before performing underground work like water line repairs.
Botha explained that he has received plenty of communication on the matter since it was tabled, and emphasized that inter-departmental communication could be improved.
“I had a call from a resident informing me that somebody is going around saying that we as council approved the removal of these trees in March/April of this year, to which I said no. We approved the roadways budget and we approved the utilities budget. I think if there was any indication at the time, back in March and April, that they were going to be removing over 100 trees, we probably would have asked a lot of questions back then we probably would have had additional options.” Botha said.
Botha commended administration for pulling things together because not all residents can attend a meeting quickly. Residents of 12th Street east did attend a meeting on Sept. 8, and administration has worked with those who were concerned. He noted that the improvements looks great and with reforestation it can return to the former look in anywhere to 20 years.
He reiterated that inter-departmental communication was important with one department removing trees and another sending notices.
“We need to insure that if there is two departments or more departments involved in a project such as this that somebody takes the lead with regard to communication,” Botha said.
Lennox-Zepp emphasized her support for the newly added third point as a policy to be looked at.
“Just because they made efforts doesn’t mean that we need to vote no. It just means looking into a policy on that topic,” she said.
“This can be a positive step for the elected (officials) and the administration. It doesn’t have to be a negative.”
Ogrodnick said he wasn’t happy the trees were gone, but pointed out that the upgrades were paid for at a rate of $17,000 per property. He also agreed with Botha, that the tree canopy would grow back in the future. However, he also said there was room for improvement.
“I think the department could have done better. As I said a the executive meeting, I would like council or the department to say that our expectation this summer, based on ideal repaving program under ideal conditions, (is to go) through these areas and have these letters go out in the spring. This is what we anticipate doing this year, not just before that project gets going,” Ogrodnick said.
Zurakowski, who did not vote in favour, said that the balance of the conversation is between people who are happy with the upgrade and those who do not like tree removal. He said communication was the key issue, and not whether trees should be removed as part of the upgrades. He also defended city administration, and said council bears some responsibility for the policies and guidelines they approve.
Like Ogrodnick, he said communication should be a key element as soon as an infrastructure projects gets approved as part of the budget.
“That is what we are saying is a priority: communication to our residents, so we don’t get phone calls at 11 o’clock at night with people being upset,” he said.
Nowoselsky gave examples from his own Ward and thought that looking into how other cities deal with this issue.
“Maybe by talking to other cities maybe we are going to learn some techniques of things they have benefited from, we don’t know about it, we are not the experts. So this opening the door to do more exploration so we can do a better job in the future,” he said.
-With files from Jason Kerr, Prince Albert Daily Herald