The Marine Drive hillside was subject of harsh words from two White Rock councillors this week, after city staff provided an update on the vegetation removal and slope stability work that took place over the past several months.
The project, described by the city as “vegetation management” meant to improve slope stability, has provoked mixed reaction from residents since it was launched in May.
At Monday’s council meeting, Coun. David Chesney said the hillside is not part of the city’s lease agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and questioned why such extensive work would be taking place on property not owned or leased by the city.
The city’s director of engineering and municipal operations, Greg St. Louis, pointed to a 1950 agreement between the railway and city – at the time Great Northern Railway Company and the District of Surrey – that handed responsibility of the retaining wall maintenance to the city.
St. Louis said that responsibility extended to “any impact on the retaining walls.”
“If there’s an issue with the slope below it that would potentially undercut the retaining wall, we’re responsible for that as well,” St. Louis said.
The agreement, which was included in St. Louis’s report, is dated Aug. 14, 1950 and stemmed from a request from the city to construct “timber cribs, pile bulk heads” and “four concrete culverts” for support of what was then Washington Avenue (now Marine Drive).
Section 3 of the agreement reads: “The District further covenants and agrees to maintain the said works at all times and in such manner so as not to create any possible hazard, detriment or interference to the lands and operations of the Railway Company contiguous hereto.”
Though St. Louis maintained the tree and shrub removal was necessary to facilitate the retaining-wall repairs, Chesney said he felt the scope of the work “went way beyond what had to be done” and said he still hasn’t received a proper explanation as to why so many trees were taken out.
“There’s nothing that we can do to put those trees back, I realize that,” Chesney said. “But I still have not heard an answer that satisfies me as a representative of our community, (why) we needed to go to that extent on someone else’s property.”
Coun. Helen Fathers echoed Chesney’s sentiments, describing the extent of the work on the hillside as “quite shocking.”
While she acknowledged voting in support for what was described to council as a “vegetation-management plan,” she said what took place was “more of a clearcut.”
“There’s nowhere it was ever brought to council where the extent of what went on was approved,” Fathers said. “There’s been a little bit of dishonesty in regards to the implementation and what has been going on down there.”
Chesney visited the hillside with city manager Dan Bottrill last Friday to observe both the recent removal of trees and shrubs on the hillside around the hump and the effect of storms early in the week that had washed out significant patches of soil along East Beach.
Acknowledging there has been irate feedback from some residents to the vegetation work, Bottrill told Peace Arch News at the conclusion of the private tour that the recent trimming will be only a first phase of work planned by the city, adding that subsequent phases will improve the aesthetic appearance.
“This is the worst part of it,” Bottrill said. “We’ll actually be doing a replanting stage in the spring and we’ll be seeking advice of consultants on the best vegetation to have for the area,” he added.
Chesney added that providing more information on the city’s plans might have lessened community shock at the removal of the trees.
“I think the lesson we can learn from this is to improve our communication,” he told PAN. “If we can get out in front of projects like this and communicate what the city is doing, that will go a long way to reduce the concerns that people have now.”
– with files from Alex Browne