Risky trees identified along new path route

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Pathway construction on Lower Ganges Road between Baker and Booth Canal roads will mean a number of dangerous trees growing on the right-of-way must be removed for worker safety.

The Capital Regional District tendered the construction contract for Phase 2 of the pathway between Central and Booth Canal to Don Mann Excavating last fall. Salt Spring CRD director Gary Holman has acknowledged community concern around keeping large trees, but reported at public meetings last week that a number of trees have been identified as posing risks to the contracting crew. WorkSafeBC regulations mean they must be removed for work to continue. 

Despite that ruling, one arbutus tree that has captured the hearts of community members may be saved as long as it’s not compromised during construction work.

“We’re directing the contractor certainly to not cut down that tree and to take as much care as possible,” Holman said. 

The CRD’s engineer for Salt Spring, Allen Xu, said an arborist with dangerous tree certification has determined some Douglas-firs and other trees are dead at the top or in very poor health and are therefore a danger to the worksite. 

“The risk of them falling on the workers is very high,” Xu said. “According to WorkSafeBC regulations, the contractor has the right to refuse to work and they sent a note saying these risks need to be mitigated before we proceed.”

The stretch of road where the pathway is going was heavily damaged during the catastrophic windstorm of December 2018, with multiple large trees blown down. Xu said the CRD examined the area of concern and concurred the trees identified by the arborist had to go. 

The arbutus tree is another matter because it intrudes over the pathway route near the historic Anglican cemetery. Space there is limited by the property line, a water main and the need to install stormwater culverts.

An 80-year-old island-born resident is one of the community members who was dismayed by the prospective loss.

“I couldn’t say how old the tree is, but I do know that it is more than 100 years old,” he told the Driftwood. “Arbutus trees are very slow growing and to have grown that large is a miracle. It has survived disease (which in recent years have killed many) and has survived not only snow and wind but the hurricane-force storm of December 2018. If any, especially big trees, survived that storm it should have the ‘forever’ right to keep living.”

The CRD has responded to community appeals by modifying the pathway design and asking the contractor to not excavate the area where the arbutus roots may be located, and to do hand digging instead.

“The public can be assured we are making every effort to save it,” Xu said, adding, “I hope it can be saved, but we don’t really know for sure.”

Holman said it may have been possible to hire another arborist to see if there was a different opinion on the dangerous trees, but it’s unknown if that would actually change the result and such a step would cost critical time and money. Further delays in the work plan are a concern because of funds the CRD received from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Active Transportation Infrastructure Grants Program. The organization stands to lose $490,000 if it can’t complete the pathway by March 31. 

Xu agreed the timeline is tight. Inclement weather in the weeks ahead could potentially cause further construction delays. He reported to the Salt Spring Transportation Commission on Monday that it might not be done before the end of May, in which case the CRD would try to negotiate for more time with the ministry.  

Xu noted that pathway construction scheduled this week and the weeks ahead could cause delays on Lower Ganges Road and asked that drivers plan trips accordingly. 

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