High winds, not tree maintenance, to blame for storm damage, says NDG mayor

Russell Copeman, the mayor of the Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough, says no amount of maintenance could have preserved some of the trees that came down in Tuesday’s intense storm.

Russell Copeman says residents usually fight borough when it wants to cut down trees

Trees were brought down in Montreal's NDG neighbourhood by Tuesday's storm. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

Russell Copeman, the mayor of the Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough, says no amount of maintenance could have preserved some of the trees that came down in Tuesday's intense storm.

In an interview with CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Copeman said the fact some trees were uprooted by the suspected microburst indicates maintenance wasn't the issue, at least in those cases.

"When you have 110 km/h winds ... no amount of maintenance would have preserved a tree that's been uprooted like that," he said

When it comes to cutting down dangerous trees, Copeman said the borough is usually damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't.

NDG Park was among the areas hardest hit by Tuesday's storm. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

"There was a tree on Marcil Avenue last year that we judged had to be removed and the reaction of the public was quite unbelievable — we had to defend cutting down the tree," he said.

"Lots of people, I guess, think that they know and can assess the health of a tree."

Copeman said the borough uses expert arborists to determine what trees need to come down.

Critics say borough tree maintenance lacking

The Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough is facing a torrent of criticism over tree maintenance in the wake of the storm, which brought down mature trees around eastern NDG.

Residents took to social media to say they've been trying to bring the borough's attention to dangerous trees in their neighbourhood.

One member of the Parents NDG Facebook group said she called the borough to have a tree trimmed and was told the average wait time was three years for someone to come and deal with the problem.

Jim Fyles, a professor of natural resource sciences at McGill University and director of the Morgan Arboretum in Montreal's West Island, says it's unlikely maintenance would have helped too much in a situation like yesterday's storm. 

"You can imagine the amount of energy it takes to break a piece of wood that's 75 centimetres in diametre," he said.  

"In the end, there's not a lot you can do about it." 

Big trees, big problems

Still, Fyles said maintenance is necessary in neighbourhoods like NDG, which is known for its big trees and is thus susceptible to the big problems that can come with them.

"It's like the rest of us, as we grow old, we accumulate defects and injuries," he said. "They need more attention and need to be maintained more carefully."

That causes special bylaw challenges, which Fyles said haven't been addressed very well for a variety of reasons.

"It's very expensive to deal with very big trees, for homeowners or for the city, and there's a tendency to say 'well, if they're growing well, let's let them grow,'" he said. "But the bigger they get, the harder they fall."

At the end of the day, Fyles said nobody likes to cut down big, healthy trees that in some cases can take up to 75 years to reach their full, mature height. 

That's the key challenge city officials have to negotiate when it comes to trees that pose potential dangers to public safety. 

Devastating tree loss

Copeman said the losses from Tuesday's storm are devastating for the neighbourhood, where the old trees are one of its hallmarks.

He said about 40 blue collar workers are now on the cleanup, which is focused on the borough's roads, sidewalks and parks for now. 

Copeman said he was not in a position to comment on what will happen for trees on private property.

"We'll assess that situation and see if we can be of some assistance — our priority is for the public domain."

With files from CBC's Daybreak


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