District of West Vancouver council is enacting a host of new policies to make sure old growth trees are never inadvertently cut down again, as happened with a recent Black Creek infrastructure project.
But almost two dozen more old growth trees will have to be sacrificed before that project is complete.
At a meeting Monday night, West Vancouver councillors and staff apologized for the widely criticized November incident in which about a dozen huge trees, some as old as 700 years, were cut down as part of a water infrastructure project above Eagle Lake. The error, which ran counter to a municipal policy encouraging the protection of old growth, was discovered by hikers in May, prompting the district to call for an investigation. That report, which was presented to council on Monday, helped explain how the mistake had happened, but also warned more big trees would have to come down: The infrastructure project, which involves diversion of water feeding Eagle Lake — the source of roughly 50 per cent of the community’s drinking water — simply has to be completed, according to staff.
“It is clear that the extent of consultation, both internally and externally, prior to the tree cutting was inadequate,” wrote Raymond Fung, director of engineering, in the report. “Exacerbated by the desire to complete tree work in a timely way, staff failed to properly recognize the full environmental values associated with the site.”
“The inadvertent loss of the old growth trees is extremely regrettable, and I wish to apologize on behalf of the engineering department,” Fung added at the meeting.
To remedy the problem, Fung put forward a number of changes staff will have to follow. Among them: Seeing that all district departments collaborate on Upper Lands projects to make sure all natural assets are documented and retained in a database; making sure staff are familiar with the district’s tree policy documents; adding more consultation to include conservation groups; and ensuring that an arborist is included on any integrated design team.
Two of the community’s leading stewardship groups, the Old Growth Conservancy Society and the West Vancouver Streamkeepers Society, were at the meeting to accept council’s apology and to give some recommendations of their own.
“We find it hard to express how upset and disappointed we are with what has happened with the Black Creek diversion project,” said Alan Bardsley, vice-president of the OGCS.
Among their recommendations: Fill the vacant position of environmental manager, a posting that has been vacant since September 2011.
“It never should have gotten to this point,” he said. “There should have been someone on district staff who had the experience, knowledge and most importantly, the authority, to have noticed what was happening and questioned what was planned.”
Staff are still reviewing the environment manager’s portfolio and are not ready to commit to when or if it will be filled, Fung said.
Ultimately, both stewardship groups have endorsed the district’s plans to make regulatory changes, and to finish the diversion project.
“We recognize that stopping the project, as is, is not in the interest of the district, the taxpayers or the environment,” Bardsley said. “We do insist that the number of additional trees to be cut be kept to the absolute minimum required to safely complete the construction.”
Sale of the timber from the felled trees, valued around $13,000, will be donated to WVSS and OGCS as well.
Contrary to popular belief and to the surprise of some council members, there are no bylaws stopping the district from cutting old growth trees.
“Our guiding documents, like OCP and tree policy talk about encouraging measures to protect old growth, however we could not find a policy that actually prevents or prohibits the cutting of old growth trees at this point,” Fung said.
This triggered a debate from council and a motion from Coun. Trish Panz to put a moratorium on all Upper Lands development until the district had established a legal mechanism to prevent future old growth loss.