Parks manager urges city to bring in contractors to help deal with tree pruning and removal backlog

Prince Albert’s parks manager has recommended the City bring in outside contractors to help deal with the overwhelming number of trees that need to be pruned or removed inside City limits.

Parks Manager Tim Yeaman told council there are at least 38,074 trees city crews need to visit. That number does not include trees in City parks, or natural forests within City boundaries.

Yeaman said the high number of unattended trees could lead to significant damage, and in some cases loss of life, especially during severe wind conditions or thunderstorms.

“Looking at contracted services is always a difficult choice, but I also believe that without some outside help helping us get back on track, we’ll struggle as a City,” Yeaman said during Monday’s executive committee meeting. “We’ll continue to see large damage, which can impact home owners, could impact vehicles being parked on the streets, (and) could impact park users. There’s always a downside to not getting to the trees, and the downside is those liabilities could cost severe damage or life.”

Yeaman said the City has one full-time five-person crew dedicated to pruning and removing trees. In 2020 they removed 310 trees, and pruned 535 more. Those numbers were down from 2019, when the City pruned or removed 1,081 trees. He attributed the decline to safety precautions taken due to COVID-19.

Yeaman said inter-City department transfers have created a bit of a challenge, since the skill-set required to assess, prune and remove trees is something acquired over years. The fact that tree crews are also required to help with snow removal has also slowed down the pace.

“Our crews work hard,” Yeaman said. “We saw them work hard during this last wind storm that came through on June 10, but I also recognize that there’s a (need) to keep our staff safe and make sure they have the tools that are needed to help them accomplish the goals that are set out for them.”

Mayor Greg Dionne said city crews have been proactive when it comes to removing and pruning trees. He said it is frustrating when storms come through and add to the backlog.

“I think this is probably one of the best crews we have,” Dionne said during Monday’s meeting. “They’re self-motivators.”

The cost of bringing in a contractor depends on how quickly the City wants to address the problem. Yeaman said most Cities aim for a 10-15 year pruning cycle. Right now, Prince Albert’s cycle sits at 45.

Getting that number down to 10 would require contractors remove or prune 2,708 trees per year. That number increase to 1,438 trees per year if council decides on a 15 year cycle.

City crews are responsible for tree maintenance on all municipal land, including those that are within the first 1.5 metres of the street curb. City crews can visit roughly 1,100 trees in a single year.

“The reduction in the pruning cycle number is far too big for us to accomplish alone,” Yeaman said. “Without consideration being given to contracting out some of the work, we will continue to see the gap continue to widen.”

Yeaman added that the situation is particularly concerning due to the recent arrival of Dutch Elm Disease in the area. He said crews have only been able to visit a handful of elm trees every year to make sure they’re disease free.

“We’re going to be running into a situation where we’re asking ourselves, ‘could we have done more?’” he told council.

City council voted to forward Yeaman’s request to 2022 budget deliberations.

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