Emotional response to White Rock eagle-tree appeal

White Rock council votes says little can be done to force issue, but voted to at least try.

An appeal to save eagle habitat in White Rock brought one councillor to tears Monday.

In commenting on a delegation by resident Sandy McNamee – who produced photos and video of eagles that perch on the few mature Douglas firs that White Rock has left – Coun. Helen Fathers choked up.

“You’re not supposed to be emotional about these issues, but it’s really hard not to be,” she said. “I don’t think the owners are really interested in this process.”

McNamee was spurred to speak to council after a lot neighbouring her property and home to one tall Douglas fir was recently sold. The lot, at 15265 Victoria Ave., is also adjacent to city land that bears four other firs. All five of the trees are popular perch sites for area eagles, the biologist said.

Combined, “the three-block area (is) the heart of eagle habitat in the area,” she noted.

An arborist has recommended the five trees be removed to make way for a new house on the site, for which a building permit application has been submitted. Roots of the four city trees are at risk of critical damage from excavation should the project proceed as planned, Paul Stanton, the city’s director of development services, told council.

Talks have determined there is no appetite on the applicant’s part to consider a land swap that could preserve the firs, Stanton said.

“He was adamant that he wasn’t interested, primarily because of the time it would take,” Stanton said, describing the applicant as a “reputable builder.”

“He wants to be able to build this summer.”

Peace Arch News’ efforts to contact the builder have been unsuccessful.

McNamee asked council to “explore and exhaust every option and be respectful of all the parties involved, including the eagles.”

Council voted to have staff inquire further regarding what, if anything, would convince the applicant to preserve the trees – compensation, for example – and to ask if the city could do exploratory digging on the site to better determine where the roots are.

Ultimately, the property owner is “in the driver’s seat,” Stanton said.

While the vote was unanimous, Coun. Al Campbell saw little point to the effort.

“These trees are going to be destabilized. I think the stars are aligned on this one,” he said. “These trees are not going to survive. I don’t think we have any choice here.”

Asked to clarify property owners’ rights, city manager Dan Bottrill said such applicants are entitled to develop to the full extent of what is allowed in the zoning. Even a citywide tree-management bylaw would not make a difference in the situation, he said.

In supporting the motion, Coun. Grant Meyer noted there is no guarantee that the trees, if damaged, would immediately fall.

“The very least we can do is try to save these trees. Coun. Campbell is right – they are going to die. But maybe not for 40 years,” he said.

“At least we can look back (on) tonight and say, ‘we gave it our best.’”

About a dozen people turned out to support McNamee in her delegation, which received enthusiastic applause from council attendees.