on June 19, 2017 by test_editor in WEB-EXTRA content, Comments (0)

Web-extra (June 22, 2017): Grey Obliterates Green; Trees are first to pay the price.

Web-extra (June 22, 2017): Grey Obliterates Green;
Trees are first to pay the price.

By Debra Huron.

“Here dies another tree because grey… trumps green in Kitchissippi ward.”

On May 6, Environment Canada’s senior climatologist David Phillips said this about the floods that were swamping Ontario;
“We’ve removed the green infrastructure and replaced it with grey infrastructure. So when that raindrop falls, it becomes immediately a flood drop.”

During the last week of April, just before rivers peaked and flooding began, I noticed that a sidewalk on Spencer Street was indented so that a Norway maple with a circumference of 44 cm would have space to grow.

As a tree hugger and activist, I am part of two groups; The Champlain Oaks and BIG TREES of Kitchissippi. I care about protecting mature, healthy trees in the urban environment. When I saw that a newly built city sidewalk had been configured to accommodate a tree on municipal property, I was pleased. Tickled green, one might say.

I later learned how contentious this bit of sidewalk was.

Before last year’s massive reconstruction on Spencer Street, no sidewalk existed on the south side of Spencer between Holland and Western. For one short block, before the new sidewalk was installed, brown and green, not grey infrastructure, dominated the street.

But the city offered to build and pay for this short sidewalk and Councillor Jeff Leiper agreed with citizens’ arguments in favour of this. Cost for about 60 metres of sidewalk was $8,600. Those in favour argued for easier access to the traffic lights at Holland Avenue via a concrete path. Their alternative was to cross to the north side of the street, which has had sidewalks for decades.

One of those opposed to the sidewalk was homeowner Don Blyth, whose family has lived at 89 Huron Avenue (the corner of Huron and Spencer) since 1924 . When he met with Councillor Leiper to talk about the proposed sidewalk, Don argued this one block sidewalk was a waste of money due to limited pedestrian traffic. He was also concerned that the maple tree outside his home would be harmed by its construction. He grew up in the house he now owns. He remembers when the city planted the Norway maple, and puts its age at 35 years.

“This healthy maple is the only shade tree on the south side of Spencer from Holland almost to Caroline,” said Blyth. “Its striking crimson foliage usually outlasts all the deciduous trees in the area, and I felt it was a shame to lose such a tree to a sidewalk that wasn’t really needed. Unfortunately, during the sidewalk construction many of the tree’s roots were either severed or damaged.”

What Don didn’t know, until I told him a few weeks ago, was that Ottawa’s 2006 Municipal Trees and Natural Areas Protection by-law protects trees of any size and any species from damage or destruction during municipal infrastructure projects. Forestry inspectors monitor projects involving municipal trees and can issue a by-law infraction to city contractors that damage or destroy such trees.

Last fall, Don had dealings with Tara Blasioli, an engineer with Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development. She was managing the sidewalk construction project on Spencer St., and when she suggested building the sidewalk with an indentation along its inner side to allow room for the tree to grow, Don agreed that this was a workable way to accommodate the tree.

On May 10, as this year’s floodwaters were receding, I happened to stroll along Spencer Street again. I was shocked to see that the maple’s roots had been cut away and a trench dug between the inside edge of the sidewalk and the tree’s pedestal.
The city engineer responsible for the project informed me, via email, that the city’s contractor was installing a concrete curb in front of the tree. Why? The city wanted to protect the tree from winter damage from sidewalk plows. The engineer told me, “We are confident the tree will survive.”

Is this anything but wishful thinking?

Here are the facts that I understand. The tree’s roots were cut twice in the span of 8 months: once last fall when the sidewalk was installed, and again this spring. The root destruction of May 10 is far more egregious than the first cuts because roots close to the trunk are more important to a tree’s stability and long-term health than those farther out.

Did Forestry sanction the May 10 cutting and trenching? Information available to me says they did not. A Forestry inspector who viewed the trenching the week of May 10 told me that his superiors in Forestry were considering whether to lay charges and against the infrastructure department. This would be a first in the city, but better in my opinion than charging contractors that are simply carrying out a statement of work issued by Planning and Infrastructure.

I asked a manager in Forestry to tell me what Forestry was doing to enforce the by-law. He did not reply to three emails from me but I learned from a different source that Forestry has issued no infraction notices to anyone.

I happened to be on Spencer Street one day talking to Don Blyth when one of his neighbours joined the conversation. She was appalled at the trench beside the tree’s roots, and asked for an explanation.

When I told her about the curb that was being built to “protect” the tree, she immediately said, “Why can’t they just install some posts with fluorescent paint to mark the edge of the sidewalk in winter?”

Common sense might dictate this solution, and afford added protection to the tree without digging a trench mere inches from its trunk. Of course, by then, the damage was done.

The epitaph? Here dies another tree because grey, it seems, trumps green in Kitchissippi ward.

slight jog in sidewalk intended to accommodate a large Maple tree

Rooted in …

Photo Caption: Norway maple twice cut at the roots, now at risk. Photo by D. Huron..

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