Monica Contois speaks with passersby on the promenade Thursday

Answers sought over White Rock hillside work

City says tree and bush removal is first phase of multi-year project.

A White Rock resident set up shop on the promenade last week collecting signatures petitioning the city to stop removing trees and other vegetation from the hillside.

Monica Contois, who has lived on the Peninsula for 35 years, said she was “heartbroken” to see the bluff along Marine Drive “clearcut” over the past two weeks.

“There is nothing left here,” Contois said, looking up at the bare hillside stretching from the pier east past the white rock.

The city-ordered work began May 5, and according to signage along the railway fencing and a bulletin on the city’s website, is meant for “maintaining slope stability, increasing line of sight and eradicating invasive species.”

Contois spent much of Thursday speaking to passersby and gathering signatures – by Peace Arch News press deadline Tuesday she had collected about 300 – and plans to take the petition to council. Her main concern is the lack of communication from the city regarding the work and what the future of the ‘hump’ will look like.

“Why weren’t people informed that this was happening?” Contois asked. “If there is a plan, what is the plan? Please enlighten your public, your White Rock taxpayers. Give us some hope for this disaster.”

The city’s director of engineering and municipal operations, Greg St. Louis, told PAN the removal of trees and bushes on the hillside is the first phase of a multi-year project for the area, which includes repairing the retaining wall at the top of the bluff. He said that despite the ‘hump’ being owned by BNSF Railway, the retaining wall remains the city’s responsibility, per an agreement made when Marine Drive was first built.

“The city is responsible for maintaining the retaining wall that supports the road and utilities there,” St. Louis said, noting another project to repair the steel and wooden retaining walls is in the works for this year.

“This is all part-and-parcel to coincide with that project.”

Although there have been suggestions that BNSF management is not happy about the clearing, public-affairs director Gus Melonas said the company is “not taking a position on it – as long as it does not impact our operation or slope stability. Our priority is safe operation of the the line.”

He said reports received from BNSF engineers indicate there is “no problem’ with slope stability as a result of the clearing work.

“As far as the vegetation issue, we realize it’s controversial,” he said.

“It’s the city’s call, and we would refer further questions to them.”

In response to photographs circulated last week of stumps that appear to have a diameter larger than 31 centimetres – the maximum size a tree can be before it becomes “protected” under the city’s bylaw – St. Louis said there were a few trees that had previously been topped and had started to rot that were removed. He also noted there were some stumps already on the hillside prior to crews commencing work last week.

“Some of them had a four- or five-foot stump with shoots sticking out, so we cut them down to ground level,” he said.

When asked if the remainder of the trees that were removed were measured beforehand, St. Louis said they were.

“Anything that was removed that was close to significant size was measured,” he said.

St. Louis said he disagreed with the description many residents have been using that the hillside has been “clearcut,” noting that there are a lot of large trees that will remain in place when the city begins replanting some “low-lying plants, maybe some kind of wildflower, or something to that effect.”

He acknowledges, however, that recent work has left the hillside looking less than eye-catching.

“Bear with us through this time,” St. Louis said. “As you know, once you cut something it does look bare, but after we come through and finish the project, I’m sure it’s going to look good.”

– with files from Alex Browne

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