Old swing is on the ground as Michelle Purcell watches tree cutting, Tuesday. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

Big Whonnock trees coming down for safety

Fortis proceeding with removal of 20 in east Maple Ridge

The tall cedar with a crooked ladder nailed into it and from which hung a children’s swing was lopped down in pieces Tuesday on 268th Street to allow Fortis to continue with its gas line maintenance work.

Michelle Purcell, whose front yard adjoins the tree, had opposed its cutting, along with 11 others along the road, saying they didn’t pose a safety hazard to the gas line.

As she and husband Rob watched, crews made quick work of the tree, cutting the branches from the ground up and removing the old swing that has hung there since it was put up in 1945.

Kids used to swing on the tree on their way back and forth to the former Whonnock elementary, recalled Michelle.

“It was the thing to do.”

A few minutes into the heavy-duty cutting, however, and the swing and its rope were rolled up on the ground.

“They said they would give us the swing back. Big deal, I’d rather have the tree,” said Michelle.

She thought it was sad because there was no reason to bring down the cedar, which was there before the pipeline went in, in 1956.

Earlier in the morning, she and a neighbour stood beneath the tree to try delay its cutting as long as possible, but Ridge Meadows RCMP showed up and the two backed down and let the crews start their work.

“They had their minds made up, so there’s not a lot that we could do,” added Rob.

Fortis had planned on cutting the trees in September, but delayed the action to ascertain the gas line location.

Nicole Brown of Fortis said that it re-evaluated the plan for a few months to confirm the location of the gas line.

“The reality is that this a very large tree and it’s on top of the gas line,” Brown said.

Brown said that the company’s maintenance program regularly identifies and removes hazardous trees near gas lines. The minimum distance a tree can be located from a gas line varies, she added.

Once Fortis identifies a tree as a hazard, “we have to act responsibly with regard to a tree when it’s been identified as a hazard.

“If that tree were to fall over, it could damage the line.”

Brown added she recognized that people value the trees and said the company doesn’t remove trees unnecessarily.

“We make these decisions very carefully. It is expensive to remove a tree. We won’t do that unless we see a clear risk.”

Fortis will also continue to remove the other 19 trees in the area.

The trees are located within the City of Maple Ridge road allowance and Fortis said that bylaws allow Fortis to remove them without a permit “for the purpose of safety, maintenance and operation of Fortis B.C.’s infrastructure and following standard arboricultural practices.”

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Old swing is on the ground as Michelle Purcell watches tree cutting, Tuesday. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

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