New Brunswick

Fredericton council votes to remove 5 trees from Officers' Square

A chorus of boos rained down on Fredericton city councillors on Thursday night as they approved a motion to remove five of the trees in Officers’ Square.

City hopes to transplant 3 of the trees to be removed from along St. Anne's Point Boulevard

Five trees will be removed soon from Officers' Square in Fredericton after council approved the move at a special meeting Thursday night. (CBC)

A chorus of boos rained down on Fredericton councillors Thursday night as they approved a motion to remove five trees from Officers' Square.

About 30 protesters attended the special council meeting, which was called to discuss a project to widen St. Anne's Point Boulevard.

The planned work can't go ahead, according to the city, unless the trees are removed. 

The city has received permission from the provincial government to remove the historic wall at the square and the five trees, with the understanding 10 trees will be planted in their place later.

Public anger over plans for the downtown trees was stirred up last month, when it was announced that 19 trees would have to be removed from Officers' Square, which is getting a facelift.

In response to the backlash, the city announced it would put the project on hold while it searched for a way to save some of the trees.

The issue wasn't discussed again at council before the decision Thursday to remove the trees next to St. Anne's Point Boulevard.

City staff hope to save three of the trees by replanting them, but it's unclear if that's possible.

The trees are among the smallest and youngest of the trees in the square, but this didn't lessen the disappointment of protesters.

"We're really, really disappointed," said Beth Biggs, a member of Save the Elm Trees at Officers' Square.

"The fact that they called this meeting with less than 24 hours notice didn't give the public the time to come. So we feel really, really disappointed and disenfranchised by the city council."

Contradictory comments?

Coun. Bruce Grandy said he believes the public's biggest concern about losing the trees has to do with the larger, older trees, not the five smaller trees now in line for removal. (CBC)

Council's latest decision appears to be at odds with comments Mayor Mike O'Brien made after the council meeting on Monday, when he said people will have a chance to address the city's tree plan before trees are removed.

"They're going to have an opportunity to speak to council," O'Brien said. "That was part of the commitment.

"There was a commitment on my behalf on council to present the plan, and any potential revisions, to the public for their input."

That meeting, however, will not take place until June 26, after five trees have been removed.

Coun. Bruce Grandy said this isn't a contradiction.

"We've heard loud and clear that the mature trees are one of the biggest issues that people have with the reconfiguration and proposal for Officers' Square," Grandy said.

"We engage contractors, we have incentive clauses with contracts, we also have penalty clauses with contracts, and the same vice versa," he said. "We change something in a contract we're getting penalised as well."

St. Anne's Point construction

Beth Biggs of Save the Elm Trees of Officers' Square said the group has already received 6,000 signatures on a petition to save the trees. (Jordan Gill/CBC)

Three options were presented to council: to remove the trees, to reduce St. Anne's Point Boulevard to three lanes or to put the entire project on pause. Council chose to remove the trees.

The street is already four lanes with the wall and trees intact, but Grandy said this could not continue with the planned changes to the square and road.

"Some of the big trees in there have their root systems right through the wall," he said.

"You as a contractor and us as a person who contracts a contractor, we legally know there's something wrong there. You can't cover it up."

Doesn't see argument

That explanation didn't satisfy Biggs.

"If they are small trees and they're going to transplant them, their roots could not be even near the fence," she said.

"They're totally contradicting themselves. They obviously are not [interfering] with the fence at all."

Biggs said the group has collected 6,000 signatures on a petition to save the trees.

A number of tree advocates have already been approved to speak at the June 26 meeting and will regroup after the decision to remove five trees.

The city did not provide a timeline for when the trees would be removed but said they would come down in the coming days.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan Gill

Reporter

Jordan Gill is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton. He can be reached at jordan.gill@cbc.ca.

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