Tree chopping begins as controversial stormwater project moves ahead

After an acrimonious standoff that included a stop in B.C. Supreme Court, the chainsaw came out Monday morning as a worker started limbing a western red cedar at the foot of 31st Street in West Vancouver.

The towering tree had been a rallying point for West Vancouverites opposed to the planned $16-million stormwater pipeline project running from British Pacific Properties’ development above the highway down Westmount Road, Thompson Crescent and Mathers Avenue to the foot of 31st Street.

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Work commenced without incident Monday, despite protesters’ hopes the project might pause after eagles were spotted stacking twigs on a nest in a nearby Douglas fir.

“Thanks to the eagles, we may have got a stay of execution,” protester Susan Bibbings said prior to work beginning.

While nesting birds are legally protected by the B.C. Wildlife Act, the eagles were tending the nest for future use and are “highly unlikely” to lay eggs this year, according to a report written by biologist Alex Sartori of Sartori Environmental, the consulting group hired by the district.

Sartori observed the nests four hours a day from Thursday to Sunday before concluding work could begin.

Protesters haven’t stopped the project; however, it’s possible they’ve delayed it, according to West Vancouver manager of community relations Kristi Merilees.

Because the pipeline construction is tethered to tidal windows, there is “some concern” the postponement will mean the project could be pushed to next year, she said.

West Vancouver is slated to pay a maximum of $6.25 million toward the project with BPP paying the remainder.

It will be at least a few weeks before the schedule can be accurately reassessed, according to Merilees.

Criticisms from protesters included charges of a lack of consultation, and accusations of the district having a cosy relationship with BPP and an outdated stormwater management plan. There were pleas for the protection of the tree as well as suggestions traffic would be disrupted and real estate values would dip.

Protesters were ordered not to interfere with the project by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Nathan Smith, who concluded the court had no jurisdiction in the dispute.

“The court has no power to tell the [District] of West Vancouver how it should manage its drainage system,” he said.

The project is necessary to protect more than 800 properties in the Rodgers Creek, Westmount and Altamont neighbourhoods from flooding and to handle overflow from Pipe, Westmount, Cave, Turner, and Godman creeks, according to the district. The project was recommended in the district’s 2013 integrated stormwater management plan.

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