This article has been amended since first posting with additional info from DNV to further explain its communications with the community.
Residents of Deep Cove have been left devastated after more than 60 trees were cut down in preparation for the District of North Vancouver’s Gallant Avenue storm sewer replacement project.
A total of 65 trees, some 20 to 30 metres tall, faced chainsaws last month, including many beloved Western red cedar, red alder, big-leaf maple, red maple and Western hemlock trees.
The district removed 32 trees along upper Gallant Avenue and into Panorama Park to make way for the storm sewer alignment and a further 35 trees at the top of Naughton Avenue, to enable construction of a temporary traffic detour.
The project, set to begin later in spring, is necessary to replace a 70-year-old storm drain that runs under Gallant Avenue and is prone to causing flooding issues.
While the district has sent three letters to residents regarding the project since October 2020, including a letter on Feb. 3 alerting them to the tree removals, placed signs up in the area, and held a virtual meeting with the Deep Cove Community Association, members of the community say information provided about the extent of the tree clearings was “pitiful” and the results are “incredibly distressing.”
It's like 'a bomb' hit Deep Cove
“One day there’s trees and then the next morning you wake up and there’s no trees,” said Panorama Drive resident Margie Goodman, who is outraged by the amount of trees cut down along the north side of upper Gallant Avenue and into Panorama Park.
“They just tore that end of the park apart. They’re just gone.”
The 76-year-old said it felt like a “bomb” had hit Deep Cove, which has been left looking “stark."
Of all the trees chopped down, due to conflicting with the project plans, the district listed 18 to be in poor condition, one was already dead and another was dying, while the remainder were in a “moderate” state, and a few were in good condition.
“It has totally changed the atmosphere of the Cove,” Goodman said. “The damage has been done.”
Goodman said the lead-up to the tree removals was poorly handled by the district, who she was meeting with to discuss what had happened.
“I've lived here for 50 years, and it's probably the worst communication that I have ever seen with a sitting council and the people – it’s pitiful,” she said.
“A lot of other people feel very strongly that the communications have just gone to zero.”
Community loses trust with the district
Residents nearby the Naughton Avenue temporary detour have already begun calling for the chopped trees to be replaced once the project is completed mid-fall.
More than 60 community members have joined a Facebook Group - Support the Restoration of Naughton Nature Park (Wildlife Corridor) - in a bid to rally support to put pressure on the district to “reforest the area for new generations to play in.”
Hannele Davidson, who is part of the group, told North Shore News she was “very angry at the lack of transparency” at an information meeting on Jan. 27 held by Deep Cove Community Association with the district about the project.
She said most residents understood and accepted the old storm sewer needed to be replaced, but felt the district was “deceptive by not disclosing the scope of the tender.”
“We expect to receive candid information when we attend a meeting to find out about the scope of the work,” Davidson wrote in a letter. “We don't know what we don't know, so the DNV staff have a duty to inform us of what we need to know, so we can determine potential impacts.
“So far the lack of transparency equates to disrespect.”
Fellow Deep Cove resident Angela Jackson penned a letter to the district saying it broke her heart to look at the destruction after the clearcut that “we were told would be narrow and affect only a few select trees.”
“The environment of the Cove has forever been altered by the removal of the wildlife corridor at the top of Naughton,” she wrote.
“This green space was home to many animals and provided a buffer between a busy road and a quiet family neighbourhood. I can’t describe the pain and helplessness that I and many of my neighbours felt during the two days of chainsaw activity.
“We trusted you and you let us down. It breaks my heart when I see the look of shock and disbelief on the faces of residents who have lived most of their lives in the community.”
While the community is angered by the results, Carolyn Grafton, manager of strategic communications and community relations with the district, said staff had been meeting with residents and business owners who have questions or concerns about the project in COVID-appropriate ways, either one-on-one or in small groups on-site, since December 2020, as well as hosting virtual meetings with arts and culture groups.
“Staff have also discussed the project with residents along Naughton Avenue by knocking on doors to brief them in person,” she said.
Tree removal at Naughton Avenue 'necessary'
Erin Moxon, a project engineer with the district’s project and development services, said tree removal at the Naughton Avenue right-of-way was necessary to create the temporary roadway, adding it was also the “safest and most effective way to minimize disruption to Deep Cove residents.”
“The temporary construction detour is required for the safe and efficient flow of pedestrians, transit, and traffic into, out of, and within Deep Cove during the storm sewer project,” she said.
“Every effort has been taken to minimize tree loss in this area. For example, the detour alignment was shifted, and special design considerations taken to retain a large cedar on the south side of the detour route. The alignment also allows for the preservation of a large hedge fronting the townhouse complex.”
However, district councillor Jim Hanson, who spent Saturday (Feb. 27) afternoon inspecting the temporary road site agreed with residents that “more trees were removed than was absolutely necessary.”
“I understand that there is a culvert project on Gallant, I understand that decisions had to be made with respect to diversion of Gallant and access, but it seemed to me more trees were removed than was strictly necessary to fulfil that goal,” he said.
“My concern was particularly the trees to the northwest of the site, they did not appear to be necessary for the one-lane road construction.”
Spent part Saturday afternoon inspecting DNV road-building site at Naughton and Deep Cove Road. To me the deforestation appears excessive to the requirements. I regret the loss of bird and animal habitats. Full remediation and reforestation will be necessary. #northvan pic.twitter.com/krnQlrOxKh— Jim Hanson (@jimhanson_NV) February 28, 2021
Hanson said he would be supporting reforestation of the site, but, at the same time, he was “upset” about the consequences the impact of the number of trees cut down would have for wildlife.
“Reclamation and reforestation doesn't undo the environmental damage of removing the forest and the consequences that has for the animals and the birds,” he said.
“There is a broad sentiment in our community that urban forests should be preserved. They’re precious, and, once destroyed … even if we replant them, what we get isn't the same as what's lost.”
Further consultation to take place in June
With a question mark still hanging over what will happen to the temporary road site once the project is complete, Moxon wanted to reassure residents that consultation would be taking place in the near future.
“We are committed to consulting the Deep Cove community before making any decisions about the future of the temporary construction detour,” she said.
“This will happen in June once the storm sewer construction is underway. Leading up to June, we will be asking the community to provide ideas.”
She said some options likely to be considered included (but were not limited to) converting the detour route to a multi-use pathway for pedestrians and cyclists only, leaving it as a vehicle link, or reverting it back to green space.
“We remain open to all options and are looking forward to hearing what the community has in mind,” Moxon said.
The district is also finalizing a comprehensive environmental compensation plan that includes tree and shrub revegetation and improvements to riparian habitat.
With tree removals now complete, Moxon said construction of the temporary traffic detour route was next on the list, and replacement of the storm sewer on Gallant Avenue will begin later this spring.
District staff have also been invited to provide a project update at the next Deep Cove Community Association meeting anticipated later this month.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.