My first house was on Booth Street. It was a new townhouse in 1980, built by RJ Nicol. At the curb line was a very large street tree. I selected the my house in part because of the large tree in front. During construction, the approved plans called for its protection by wrapping the trunk in snow fence. The water main trench was cut out to the street a foot or so to one side of the tree. The sewer cut on the other side. Then the gas company came along and when they reached the tree, dug a hole on either side of it and drilled under it to insert the gas line.
The tree died, and was removed within a few months. After much lobbying, I got a new oak tree planted at the end of my driveway, which thrives there today, the only oak along the street.
The City’s new tree protection policy always struck me as toothless, a “feel-good” by-law that imposes bureaucratic steps and permits and fees, but doesn’t really do any good. There is a story in the Citizen demonstrating that not much has changed: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/Damaged+year+silver+maple+results+review+city+planning+process/5043764/story.html
Compare that to what I recently saw in Toronto-the-good:
The signs are posted on four sides of the tree. Every construction worker has to see it. It has a phone number for workers, or members of the public, to call for more information or report improper activities. Of course, it also has some bureaucratic jargon (“TPZ”) and cutesy phone number.
It also doesn’t specifically forbid someone cutting a trench through the site provided they backfill to the original level. It would be better to cover off that eventuality specifically. And also cutting back the tree canopy and branches. And even better would be the requirement that trenches nearby be backfilled with structural soil, which would actually encourage tree recovery after construction.
In the Toronto case, note that the TPZ extends around the tree:
Tree lovers in Ottawa can look at these pictures of what could and should be done and weep:
Once you have overcome your sadness about what Ottawa could do, but doesn’t, copy the address of this blog post and email it to your Councillor.
Ottawa needs to know that other municipalities acting in the same legal framework as Ottawa are doing better. Some bureaucrat could show initiative and phone Toronto to get their policy paper. And Councillors and residents must know what the rules are, keeping in mind that any “minimum” standards the city elects to have will immediately become the “maximums” and the “mandatory procedure” imposed on construction crews. So if we want a minimum of six feet protected around the tree, future cuts will be directed to be six feet away from the trunk (not 8, not 10, not 20…).
And I don’t think we need to have a huge inspection staff. There are tree lovers everywhere. Post the signs with the “hotline” number and neighbours and community-minded people everywhere will be calling to report infractions.
We can and must do better.
PS: I love that the Toronto sign forbids storage of materials on the tree roots. We saw construction of the GT-360 fibre optic cable ducts down Albert Street a dozen years ago. As they got west of Albert, the contractors stored all their heavy equipment up close to the base of a giant Elm tree on the NCC property between Albert and Slater. One Saturday, I saw a heavy equipment operator changing the oil and some mysterious white fluid from the engine of a large tractor. He drained both out onto the surrounding soil and grass. That summer, the left side of the tree where the vehicle was parked, died. Then the whole tree sort of dried up, and was chopped down. Once again, I don’t think a City inspector would have happened on the site at just the right moment, but I did. And so might other Citizens. With a convenient number to call, the City can crowd-source much of its enforcement.