We should have had plan for hillside: White Rock mayor

Vegetation removal on Marine Drive bluff not well communicated to residents, Baldwin says.

Crews work to clear trees and vegetation on the Marine Drive hillside last month.

Crews work to clear trees and vegetation on the Marine Drive hillside last month.

City of White Rock engineers are working on plans for the future of the recently cleared Marine Drive hillside, the mayor confirmed this week, admitting that the city “did not do well” informing residents about the project.

No decisions have been made as to the layout, design or type of vegetation to be planted on the ‘hump,’ Mayor Wayne Baldwin said, insisting the more pressing matter is addressing the decades-old retaining walls at the top of the slope.

“The first priority is the retaining walls,” Baldwin told Peace Arch News Monday. “Those things have to be fixed now, before we have an issue with it.”

City-contracted crews began removing shrubs, plants and trees along the bluff early last month, which took many residents – and at least two councillors – by surprise.

Signs posted along the railway fencing and a bulletin on the city’s website indicated the vegetation removal work would focus on “maintaining slope stability, increasing line of sight and eradicating invasive species.”

When asked about the communication efforts leading up to the work taking place – described at last week’s council meeting by Coun. Helen Fathers as “piss poor” – Baldwin said the city could have done more.

“We should have had a plan that said, ‘OK, this is coming down and this is what it’s going to look like when it’s finished,’” Baldwin said. “That would have been ideal, but we didn’t do that, not with any accuracy anyways, because we didn’t know what the ground is like.”

Baldwin pointed out that now that the vegetation has been removed, engineers are able to see the slope more clearly.

“We can see how best to do the landscaping plans for it, and that makes a lot of sense, actually, in terms of planning and designing,” he said.

Baldwin said the project has been in the works for a number of years, and was specifically discussed by council at their priority planning session in February.

Fathers, who at last week’s council meeting said she was “surprised” to see the extent of the clearing, confirmed she was not in attendance at the February planning sessions. She said if the work was brought up, the public should have been invited to attend.

“That’s where this council is getting into trouble with the public,” Fathers said Monday. “If indeed that work was discussed on that day, then that meeting should have been open to the public and it should have been minuted, because that’s council business.”

Coun. David Chesney, who has long been opposed to tree removal on the hump, said he does not recall the project being discussed in detail.

“All that I was ever aware of was work described as hump vegetation control,” Chesney told PAN Tuesday. “There was nothing in detail about all the trees that were going to be removed… That’s why I was so shocked.”

When the hillside work began last month, director of engineering Greg St. Louis told PAN that after the removal stage, the retaining walls will be inspected and repaired, and the hillside will be replanted to “improve the stability and beautify the hillside.”

Responding to a delegation against the project last week, St. Louis said the work was “not a beautification project, it’s an engineering project,” noting the vegetation was removed in order to undertake the retaining-wall work.

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