Councillor seeking more notice before future tree removals

A few local residents aren’t happy more than 100 trees along 12th Street East (pictured) are coming down due to a major water main replacement, street widening, and lead connector replacement project. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Recent complaints about the lack of notice given to residents before the start of a major infrastructure project have one Prince Albert city councillor asking for more clarity.

Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha plans to bring forward a Notice of Motion at Monday’s council meeting 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.

Botha made the decision 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. He said the motion will provide specific instructions to city crews, and allow residents to have their voices heard long before the work starts.

“I’m hoping this specific project (on 12th Street) is the exception, rather than the norm,” Botha said during an interview on Friday. “We are going to go through this process again at budget time, and to me, when the budget has passed, within weeks that community consultation should start—not wait until seven days to two weeks before the project.”

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 said that’s not nearly enough time. Instead, he wants residents to receive at least three months’ notice before work begins. He also wants City administration to send an update one month before construction.

Botha said not all Prince Albert residents are active Internet users, or regulars on social media, so the City should consider using regular letters to make sure everyone is aware of what’s happening.

“Adequate notice will obviously lead to consultation and provide opportunities for consultation,” he explained. “To me, that’s part and parcel to this whole process. I think there are several streets and avenues in the City that are very similar to 12th Street East … and we need to do whatever we can to maintain the character of historic neighbourhoods and communities.”

City crews have already started work on a more than $1-million project to replace 39 lead service connections and the 110-year-old cast iron water main running underneath 12th Street East. All work will be done between Second Ave. and Sixth Ave. The project requires crews to cut down more than 100 trees.

When asked about the project during the Sept. 8 council meeting, Public Works Director Wes Hicks said 12th Street was one of the most challenging areas to work. A concrete encased SaskTel trunk line also runs down the middle of the street, and that give crews much less room to work with.

He added that in eight years, they’ve only ever clear cut one other location in this way.

“We take that very seriously,” Hicks told council. “We never cut down trees helter-skelter. We always look at all alternatives to save trees. That’s always been our mandate.”

A group of 12th Street residents also attended the Sept. 8 meeting to voice their concerns about the project. They argued that the removing so many trees would alter the neighbourhood’s character for the worse, while also driving down property values. They also worried any new trees planted in the area would be easy targets for vandals, and dislike how little time they had to get in touch with City Hall before the work started.

“It seems to me that either (council) didn’t know that all these trees were going to be cut down, or (they’ve) given Public Works carte blanche to do whatever they want in our neighbourhood, and to look for the cheapest and easiest solution,” local resident Allison Attree told council. “I don’t think that was best.”

Botha’s Notice of Motion is one of two on the agenda for Monday’s meeting. The other comes from Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards. It focuses on incentive programs for renovations to multi-unit buildings in older neighbourhoods.

There are 20 items from reports and committees on the agenda, along with one item of unfinished business from a previous meeting.