The City of Prince Albert plans to start a major streetscape redesign and water main replacement project on Monday, but some local residents worry about the negative environmental effect it will have on the neighbourhood.
The more than $1-million project will see the replacement of 39 lead service connections, as well as the 110-year old cast iron water main running underneath 12th Street East between Second Avenue and Sixth Avenue.
As part of the process, the City will also widen the street from 9.5 meters to the residential standard of 11. They’ll also remove 112 private and city-owned trees from the four block area. A few local residents are upset with that approach, and wish the city was doing more to protect those trees.
“It’s going to take away the charm on that street completely,” said Allison Attree, a local homeowner who’s lived on 12th Street East since 2011. “The streetscape will be ugly for many years. I don’t think people really realize how bad it’s going to look until those trees are gone.”
Attree said it’s understandable that some trees may have to be removed during the project, but believes it’s excessive to chop down 112. The City of Prince Albert has promised to replant trees along the street, but Attree worries those new trees won’t survive long enough to grow. Smaller trees are a target for vandals, she explained, and have to be properly tended in order to thrive.
That’s not her only concern either. Attree doesn’t think widening the street is necessary, and she isn’t happy local residents don’t have more time to discuss the issue. She was one of a handful of homeowners who attended an outdoor presentation from city officials on Aug. 18. However, crews will start cutting down trees on Monday.
Residents typically receive between 10 and 14 days notice about upcoming projects like this one. City administrators identified it as a priority in May and listed it online as part of the City’s paving program, but many homeowners only learned about it on Aug. 18.
“They know people like me are going to be annoyed,” Attree said. “If we had more time, I would have tried to get people to sign a petition or somehow lobby the City to reconsider, but giving four business days notice doesn’t give me much of a chance to do that with the neighbours.”
City administrators say the project is a massive, much needed upgrade that will help provide water security for the area, and removing trees is an unfortunate side effect.
It’s also a major opportunity to get some work done. The City usually doesn’t replace more than 6 lead connectors in a year, so doing 39 as part of one project is a challenge. Still, it’s the water mains that are the biggest issue.
“The case iron water mains are 110 years old, so they’re far past their life expectancy,” said Nykol Miller, Prince Albert’s capital projects manager. “The replacement of them provides a secure water source for the midtown area. They’re prone to breaking.”
Miller said the City has a plan to reforest the area with newer, hardier types of trees, however, she’s not sure whether all 112 trees will be replaced.
“It may be more, it may be less,” she said.
Construction crews have start as soon as possible to beat the winter freeze-up. Miller said, the city aims to have all projects completed by Oct. 9, but that’s entirely dependent on the weather.
She added that several trees will have to be removed because of they’re too close to those 39 lead connectors.
Attree isn’t convinced by that explanation. She said knowledgeable workers should be able to work around the smaller, younger trees.
“They’re just taking the simple route,” she said.
Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha helped organize the meeting between city administrators and local residents on Aug. 18. Botha said the project is a massive upgrade and removing trees may be a necessary evil.
“It’s always a last resort,” he explained. “With massive projects such as this, unfortunately, those trees need to go.”
Botha added that many of his constituents are concerned about water quality, and this project will help address that issue. However, he’s also heard concerns about the number of trees being removed, and he wants the City to replace every tree they take out.
“We don’t want to remove trees unnecessarily,” he said. “If we take a tree out, we need to replace (it).”
The City may enter into a three year agreement with a local contractor to ensure any newly planted trees survive into maturity. If all goes according to plan, Botha is confident the neighbourhood will eventually regain its old charm.
“This is going to look a little bit open for a while, but once those trees are five or ten years old, we’ll start seeing a restoration of the canopy.”