A petition-led effort to save a row of mature trees on a Peachland greenspace area behind homes along 6th Avenue failed to sway district council.
For Louise Williams, who led the petition drive signed by 39 area residents, she remains frustrated the district was unwilling to alter the pathway for a new water main to be installed along the Trepanier Creek Ravine to help preserve a row of mature Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees.
“I don’t understand why it should be a problem to move the trench line over five or 10 feet to avoid cutting down those mature trees,” Williams said.
“Those trees have been through a lot with the bark beetle issue a few years back and the fires. They have survived through all that.”
The trees extend along the back of 6th Avenue residences, in a greenspace corridor seven metres wide and 720 metres long, which Williams says is often used by locals local to go for a walk or to walk their dogs.
The water main project is part of an effort to connect all of Peachland’s water users under one filtrated water system.
John Youngblut, a member of the Peachland Water Protection Alliance and chair of its watershed watch committee, presented the argument for preserving the trees at the June 23 council meeting on behalf of the petition signees.
Youngblut said the association took up the cause because affected residents were looking for information about what was going on with the trees and getting no answers.
An environmental assessment of the project was carried out, he said, but the results of that study had not been made public, again raising issues about public policy transparency.
“The neighbours in that area were up in arms because they basically didn’t know what was going on,” Youngblut said.
Appearing before council, Youngblut said he was “a little disheartened” by the reaction of some council members, insinuating this was an effort to disrupt a positive project that will provide a better quality of drinking water for all Peachland residents.
“Everyone having clean drinking water was not our argument. I made clear this wasn’t a NIMBY issue related to the water main being installed. People were simply asking for clarity and understanding about what was going on with the parkland behind their homes,” he recounted.
“I was a little disappointed with the reaction as it was not our intent to be adversarial but rather to serve as a sentinel for our watershed and be there for people seeking some direction and be an intermediary between them and council.”
At the council meeting, Youngblut said he was told altering the water main trench would add $45,000 to $105,000 to the cost and the project was already on a tight deadline to be completed by Dec. 31, 2020, or the provincial grant money to help pay for it would be lost.
“That seemed a little extreme to me but we didn’t really get an explanation of how those added costs were arrived at,” he said.
While council voted to not make any changes to the project, the environmental assessment study was made accessible to the public on the district website, and a tentative commitment to work with the PWPA and the project contractor to save any of the trees where possible was broached.
“We are not trying to be disruptive, not hoping to do that at all. We just want to work with the district and residents to save what is left of the ravine greenspace for future generations,” Youngblut said.
Contacted by the West K News on Tuesday, Mayor Cindy Fortin said she regrets the trees are being impacted by the new water main construction, but the water improvement project is critical to Peachland’s domestic water needs.
“We have to do these things sometimes to move ahead with a project of this importance,” Fortin said.
From a cost perspective, she said it’s critical the water main be built in a straight line, and in this case, will be situated parallel with an existing natural gas line.
“I’m sorry that the trees are in the way of this but having clean, fresh, safe drinking water is so important to our community,” Fortin said.
She added grants by the federal and provincial governments, $3.48 million each, are paying for the project, which has also been mandated by Interior Health to raise Peachland’s domestic drinking water to provincial standards.
But Williams said even trying to save the trees amid the water main construction offers its challenges.
“Once the big mechanical shovels start digging….even if you want to save the trees it will be difficult because it will disrupt the deep tree roots and make them unstable,” Williams said.
“The wind blows pretty hard at the top of our hill so they become dangerous for people walking in that park and for the animals.”
Youngblut said the tree roots are large and shallow in the ground, raising concerns that if their foundation is weakened, some trees could topple over into the properties along 6th Avenue.
“There would be a concern there I think of weakened trees falling on people’s houses, or at least into the backyards of homes, because of the wind action.”