New Brunswick

Tree commission chair urges Fredericton to hold off on Officers' Square project

A commission set up to help manage and protect Fredericton trees wants the city to delay a project that will remove all but four trees from Officers' Square this summer.

City plans to cut down 19 trees at square and didn't consult its tree advisory group until 2 weeks ago

Nineteen trees are expected to be cut down in coming weeks and months to make room for new development in Fredericton's Officers' Square. (Philip Drost/CBC News)

A commission set up to help manage and protect Fredericton trees wants the city to delay a project that will remove all but four trees from Officers' Square this summer.

The Fredericton Tree Commission only learned from city staff about two weeks ago about plans to take down 19 trees at the downtown gathering and performance space, said Sarah Weatherby, chair of the advisory group.

"They've been working on the plan for about four years," Weatherby said Monday. "And two weeks ago that was the first time that we were involved.

"That was the first time we had heard just how many trees were actually being removed. It was a bit of a shocker."

The tree removal could start as early as this week, with eight trees on the block.

The removal coincides with a planned revitalization of Officers' Square in the next four years. Most of the trees to disappear are beside the wall along Officers' Square, and they vary in age.

Sometimes with these new developments, we're losing sight of what's really important.- Sarah Weatherby , tree commission

Greg McCann, a project engineer with the city, said earlier that the 19 trees won't survive a sizeable construction project planned for Point St. Anne Boulevard this year.

Coun. Greg Ericson, who is council's representative on the tree commission, said that although the chair and some members of the commission were never briefed on the Officers' Square plan, at least two members — two city staffers on the committee —  knew about it for years.

He cited a communication problem but couldn't say why the collaboration with the commission, which would be expected on such projects, didn't happen.

The group will meet Thursday night to "straighten things out" and discuss how it should proceed as a group with respect to a stance on the tree-removal issue.

Mayor Mike O'Brien also planned to raise the issue at Monday's council meeting. 

"The larger part is still off into the future," said Ericson.

The planned makeover for the square includes an oval skating track around the outside of the lawn, a performance stage, playground, and food and beverage area.

The city said it will eventually plant 40 trees in the area, a majority of them elms.

There are 22 major construction projects taking place in Fredericton this summer, which will cost more than $30 million. 1:43

When the removal is finished, four trees will be left standing at Officers' Square.

"I did feel a little bulldozed," said Weatherby, who has been a part of the commission for four years.

"They [city] definitely weren't coming to talk to us about our advice … they were telling us, 'This is what's happening and why.'"

At that meeting, the commission made recommendations to city staff, including using a tree spade — a giant shovel — to remove some of the trees along the wall in the square to a new location.

But Weatherby said she's hoping the city will hold off on the upgrades altogether and assess the real need for them.

After discovering 19 trees will be cut down in Officers' Square, Sarah Weatherby, chair of Fredericton's tree commission, is hopeful the city will rethink its development plans for the area. (CBC)

"I really think they need to rethink the development," she said.

In the past, she said, the tree commission has been contacted early on by the city about plans involving trees.

"This is a fairly big development," she said. "But we were definitely brought in quite late in the game."

Public not impressed

Over the weekend, dozens of residents gathered in Officers' Square to protest against the city's plans to chop down the trees.

Protesters argued the loss of trees will destroy the history and beauty of the park.

O'Brien said he couldn't commit to anything except a promise to take the protesters' comments back to council and staff for a discussion about whether anything can be done.

Protesters gathered in Officers' Square on Saturday to send a message they want the trees saved. (Sarah Petz/CBC )

Weatherby applauded the public's passion for keeping the trees and its efforts to put pressure on council.

She said the trees provide more than just shade. They lower heating and cooling costs, they take away pollution from the air, reduce storm-water runoff and sway people to spend more time in the downtown, which is good for the city economy.

The commission will meet with the city in July to discuss the new trees being planted and other suggestions.

"Sometimes with these new developments, we're losing sight of what's really important," Weatherby said. "The trees are an important part of the infrastructure downtown."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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