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    Categories: Environment

Environment File

Signs and barriers have been erected at the BLESS platform on Big Lake in St. Albert. The city closed the BLESS viewing platform after a structural assessment found it unsafe for public use. The platform had been extremely uneven.

City council signed off on a plan this week that aims to nearly double St. Albert’s tree cover in 20 years.

St. Albert councillors unanimously approved the 2017 Urban Forest Management Plan on Monday. Presented to council in draft form in March, the plan lays out how the city is to manage and enhance the city’s urban forest, which includes all trees within city limits.

The plan commits the city to having at 20 per cent of St. Albert covered by trees by 2037, and to never go below its current level of 13 per cent. It also calls on the city to hire a dedicated urban forest supervisor, develop urban forest education programs, and establish penalties for developers who damage/destroy trees (e.g. having them plant at least two for every one removed).

Resident Mike Killick criticized the plan before council for not including any penalties for city employees who harmed trees, noting that lawn crews had killed many by damaging their trunks. He also wanted timelines on when the city would replace trees it had removed, noting that one prominent specimen near Giroux Pond had been missing for three years.

The city’s summer lawn crews tend to be students who sometimes get overzealous in their weed-eating, explained Louise Stewart, the city’s parks and open spaces operations manager.

“They take a lot of pride in their job and they want to make sure they get every blade of grass, which can be quite hazardous to the tree.”

Crews use Roundup herbicide around some trees and pair new hires with veterans to reduce this risk, she said.

Staffers have a backlog of about 300 trees in need of replacement, some of which were destroyed last winter due to vehicles. The new tree plan reiterates the city’s commitment to replace every missing tree on city property on at least a 1:1 basis within a year.

St. Albert’s urban forest has in many ways defined who we are, and it is a major draw for visitors and new residents in this community, said Coun. Sheena Hughes, a self-confessed tree lover.

“I really am pleased to see that we have a plan to make sure this asset is not ignored.”

The Big Lake observation platform could reopen as early as this fall depending on the results of this summer’s structural assessment, council heard Monday.

Council quizzed administrators this week on the status of the Big Lake Environment Support Society viewing platform, which was shuttered last week.

The popular bird-watching spot overlooks Big Lake and is next to the John E. Poole wetland.

Built by BLESS in 1995, the platform was sold to the city for a dollar and is now city property. Crews closed the platform to the public on June 22 after a preliminary structural assessment found it was unsafe to use (likely due to the substantial tilt it had developed), and were uncertain when it would reopen.

St. Albert environmentalist Stuart Loomis told council that he was concerned that the platform had been allowed to reach this state.

“Why has this vital element of viewing (infrastructure) from St. Albert into Big Lake and Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park been allowed to deteriorate to such a significant degree?”

Glenn Tompolski, the city’s general manager of infrastructure services, said the platform would likely stay closed for at least a month so crews could do a formal structural assessment on it. If it’s a simple fix, it could reopen this fall. A more complex one would require many environmental approvals and could involve a partnership with the province. In either case, he planned to have information before council in time for this fall’s budget.

Coun. Bob Russell said he hoped the platform would be fixed in a timely manner this year, as it was a major draw for both residents and tourists.

“It’s become very much part of Lois Hole park.”

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