When a Fortis BC contractor first told Michelle Purcell they would have to remove 12 trees lining the front of her property, including an old cedar, she said: “I don’t think so.”
But that’s exactly what Fortis plans to do because it says the trees are a public safety risk.
Purcell first spotted the contractor last summer checking the trees that border her property on the west side of 268th Street near 100th Avenue. The trees are on City of Maple Ridge property. The contractor said then that trees can’t be any closer than six metres to a gas line.
Purcell didn’t hear anything more about the work until two weeks ago when the same contractor showed up, this time knocking on her door.
Purcell is angry that Fortis BC didn’t contact her directly and that the only information she has came from a contractor for the company. She also doesn’t want to lose the trees, some firs, a hemlock and especially the old cedar with the swing attached to it.
“We moved here in 1974 and we figured that tree was 100 years old when we moved here,” said Purcell.
After the first visit by the contractor, she found out that the gas line was installed in 1956, and she claims the tree was already there.
Fortis has already marked the section of land where the gas line lies and plans to start removing the trees at the end of nesting season in late summer or early fall.
“Shouldn’t Fortis come to us? Shouldn’t they write us a letter? Shouldn’t we get some kind of notification? How do we as a community have a say on what happens to our properties and our lands?” asked Purcell.
The city was made aware of Fortis BC’s plans on July 4 when they received a complaint from Purcell’s neighbour.
Chuck Goddard, manager of development and environmental services with the City of Maple Ridge, said Fortis BC has no obligation to talk with the property owners because the trees are located in the road right-of-way.
But he added it’s good for Fortis to discuss their plans with the city.
“We like to talk to them just to make sure they are not doing anything they shouldn’t or there may be ways to work around these trees,” explained Goddard.
In this case however, Fortis did tell city staff that the trees have to come down because they are on top of the gas line.
Fortis BC is exempted under the city’s bylaw requiring property owners to obtain permits before cutting down trees.
Exemptions under the bylaw are if the cutting is being undertaken by a public utility for the purpose of safety, maintenance and operation of a public utility.
Nicole Bogdanovic, a spokesperson with Fortis BC, said that the rules have not changed, adding that the trees are too close to the line.
“We are removing these trees as part of our legacy program to remove trees that are known to be a hazard to the line,” explained Bogdanovic, especially she said, given the size of some of these trees.
“You would think that the root system is about two metres around, it’s quite a large tree,” said Bogdanovic about the old cedar.
“If that were to get around our pipe it could cause damage to the coating but it could really have serious, significant impact,” she noted adding that the line running underneath is an intermediate pressure line.
Bogdanovic said that Fortis BC crews have met with the city because the trees are on the road allowance and the city didn’t express any concerns.
“These trees have been identified for some time. It’s definitely a known hazard. We have to remove them. We’ve waited as long as we can in this case,” said Bogdanovic. The trees will be fully removed, leaving no stump behind.
Bogdanovic said that she can’t speculate what tree was or was not there or at what time. But, she said the cedar is now a large tree.
“It is in proximity to our system that poses a significant risk to the public. I’m sure no one wants to see an accident that could easily be prevented,” she said.
Goddard said his people don’t know the exact age of the cedar tree but estimate it to be around 80-years-old because of its significant size.
Bogdanovic said she feels for the property owners, the beauty of the area and significance of the trees, “but public safety is paramount.”