Trees under scrutiny in Gibsons

Public hearing on tree bylaw set for Sept. 14

Gibsons council devoted a lot of its time July 28 to discussing issues related to trees.

The health of the urban forest came up during a presentation on a proposed Source to Sea project that ties into the Town’s work to catalogue and protect its “eco assets.”

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Council was also given an update on the tree preservation bylaw that got two readings on July 7, and a briefing on a strategy for street trees as the Town looks to remove and replace some older trees that are causing significant sidewalk damage.

Chief administrative officer Emanuel Machado said the Source to Sea project would expand on the work already approved to do a natural asset valuation on the Charman Lands and Arrowhead Park to take in the entire Gibsons watershed “from the top of Mount Elphinstone to the ocean, encompassing all of the Town’s natural assets.”

The $75,000 project, in partnership with the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative, would be paid for by reallocating money from the gas tax and the development cost charges fund for drainage.

Director of infrastructure services Dave Newman’s updated council on the communication plan for the draft tree preservation bylaw, which includes a page recently added to the Town website.

The bylaw sets out an extensive list of protected trees such as arbutus, pacific dogwood, Garry oak, cedars and hemlock and establishes procedures that would minimize tree removal, prevent damage or destruction of trees, and mandatory conditions for tree replacement.

Council voted to hold a public hearing on the tree preservation bylaw on Sept. 14.

The Town’s street trees were the focus of a presentation by local arborist and consultant Michael Mills, who was brought in to advise the Town on dealing with trees that have been damaging sidewalks.

Mills told council that of the existing trees downtown, two on Gower Point Road in front of the sunken parking lot beside the Gibsons Quay building are causing the most serious problems. He also said the damage is largely the result of the way the trees were planted originally, using methods that are now recognized as outdated.

He said that Town staff first approached him hoping he could suggest a way to save the trees, but there is likely no option but to remove them.

Mills recommended that in future when street trees are planted or replaced the Town should take an approach developed in the last 25 years using a mix known as structural soil.

Mills, who helped create the technique, compared it to reproducing the conditions where trees in the wild grow in fractured rock by giving root systems room to grow healthily while keeping them from damaging sidewalk and road infrastructure.

“I’m so glad to hear that there is a solution, because I love our street trees and the thought of us having to cut down any more is really disappointing,” said Coun. Aleria Ladwig.

Manager of maintenance and operations Daniel Tardif said he hopes to come to council for approval to go ahead with work on the trees in Lower Gibsons, including removal of some and replanting, in the fall. “We have to do something. There’s too much liability involved.”

Mills acknowledged any strategy that involves cutting down problem trees would lead to complaints.

“I know from the get-go, the minute the chainsaw fires up and cuts down those two trees, your phone’s going to start ringing,” he said. “It can’t be helped, but there is a solution so that we don’t have to do it again… Nobody wants to see trees removed.”

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