The Town of The Blue Mountains (TBM) is reconsidering how to carry out its Thornbury West Reconstruction Project, in light of public concern about the number of trees slated for removal through the project.
The project will replace aging municipal infrastructure in one of Thornbury’s older neighbourhoods, some of which includes replacing and/or extending sections of sidewalk, widening pavement to allow for better on-street parking, and replacing water mains.
The area to undergo construction includes Victoria St. S., Elmer St. S., Alice St. W., Louisa St. W., Lorne St., and Park Ln., with construction anticipated to begin in spring 2022.
An arborist report completed for TBM in Feb. 2021 identified 262 trees in the neighbourhood, assessing their health, size, and likelihood to be impacted by the project.
The report recommended 141 trees for removal, some due to direct encroachment on the proposed works, as well as others that will likely sustain damage as a result of the work.
Following a public information centre held to address citizen concerns on Dec. 1, Betty Muise of Tree Trust gave a presentation to council on Dec. 15 asking for the design of the project to be updated to mitigate tree loss.
Muise identified 35 sugar maples in the 70-90-year-old range that were subject to removal due to their proximity to upcoming work on sidewalks, curbs, and parking, as well as another five coniferous trees that fit the same profile.
“I didn't pull out my highlighter for [trees] that were related to service installations like the storm, water and water provision,” she said.
“I've had the opportunity to consult with our Tree Trust arborist, and the expert opinion has been provided that there is considerable potential for legacy trees to be cared for instead of removed – I really think we can do this differently.”
Muise cited carbon sequestration and the neighbourhood’s aesthetic as primary reasons to mitigate tree loss.
She stated that large trees can sequester over ten times the carbon of a two-inch caliper tree (nursery-sized) on an annual basis.
“These are 90-year-old trees that took and will take 90 years to replace,” she said. “By no means does a two-inch-caliper tree, the replacement suggestion, ... represent an adequate ... replacement.”
“Big trees really make an outstanding contribution to our natural environment and our aesthetic components of Thornbury. What people say downtown Thornbury looks like, and then the side streets, has a lot to do with our canopy.”
Council and staff were keen to find a solution that allows the work to be completed while preserving more trees than initially proposed.
“I think this is a perfect example of where public input [and] town staff can work together, and we know the work needs to be done there and we know on this side we want to save the trees,” said councillor Peter Bordignon.
“I think that what we'll do is be able to find a common ground, and if it was a matter of losing 100 trees, we can save one, two, up to 90 or whatever the case may be, but still get the work done.”
Director of operations Shawn Carey said that a third-party review of the arborist’s report is scheduled for Dec. 16.
“We have Tree Trust and their specialized arborist conducting a site inspection with the author of the current arborist report,” he said.
“I think it's really important to note that arborists come with different specialties, so I think this third party kind of collaborative approach will be very helpful in coming up with a modified approach.”
Council directed staff to include opportunities for tree preservation in its upcoming staff report on the Dec. 1 public information centre, which will be completed in January 2022.