News Local

Barrie eyeing new definition of public trees 11 

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 10:40:21 EDT AM

QMI AGENCY FILE

Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth wants a different definition of what is, and what isn't, a public tree here.

She convinced a majority of councillors Monday to have city staff investigate the feasibility of deleting the current definition of a public tree, in the city's public tree bylaw, which states 'Any tree which has 50% or more of its main stem situated on a public park, highway or any lands owned by the City of Barrie is a public tree.'

Ainsworth wants it replaced with wording that reads 'any tree having any of its main stem situated on a public park, highway or any lands owned by the City of Barrie is a public tree.'

“This (current) clause downloads ownership, maintenance, responsibility, liability and eventual removal of huge old trees to homeowners regardless of who planted them,” she said.

Ainsworth wants staff to report back to Barrie councillors on the financial and resource implications of this change.

But Dave Friary - the city's director of roads, parks and fleet – indicated those could be substantial.

He says Barrie has approximately 32,000 trees on its boulevards, plus those in parks, woodlots and environmental areas. Of those boulevard trees, about 7,800 trees overlap the property line.

“So we would have to survey to see what was a public tree,” Friary said, estimating that could be very expensive. “The trees may need to be trimmed. If the tree is determined to be public, we would have to add it to our inventory and do an assessment on the tree to determine if pruning is required.”

If 7,800 trees are pruned at $300 each, that would be a $2.34-million cost.

Friary said the $2.34 million would be to prune all the trees and some may not require pruning, but during their lifetime they would require some maintenance. The $300 is the average cost for a contractor with a bucket truck and chipper to perform two hours work on a tree with a 24-inch stem.

But Ainsworth said this isn't her intention. “I'm not asking you to go around and count every tree in Barrie,” she said. “I think you are giving it more detail that I am asking.”

Mayor Jeff Lehman said it was simply too much.

“We are not spending $2.34 million on boulevard trees,” he said. “I'm not even giving that the time of day.”

“This has got an enormous financial impact just to get the information,” said Coun. Michael Prowse, chairman of Barrie's finance and corporate services committee. “You aren't getting accurate fiscal information unless you do the work.”

Friary also questioned whether he has the staff to get the information.

But Ainsworth's motion passed, and city council will consider final approval May 13. If it passes, city staff are to have the information on the financial and resource implications of a new public tree bylaw by the fall.

Ainsworth, who represents Barrie's east end, says most of the trees in question are in the older sections of the city.

“Apparently when (the city's) operations (department) receive a call - because of falling bark or broken-off limbs suspended in a tree - staff come out and do a survey and make an ownership announcement at that time,” she said.

Ainsworth says the tree which brought this to her attention has a trunk girth of 10 feet and was obviously planted by the municipality - as it is one, in a row of several trees, planted decades ago along an east-end street.

“That the tree and trunk grew to saddle over the public and private property line does not give excuse, in my mind, to download all responsibility and ownership to the homeowner and I frankly find the 50% measurement unacceptable,” she said.

Ainsworth says the current bylaw also saves the city money.

“Surely this downloading and shifting in ownership, maintenance, responsibility and liability of trees onto the homeowner creates a financial benefit for the corporation (City of Barrie),” she said.

Before By-Law 76-162 was repealed and replaced on June 1, 2009 with By-Law 2009-098, there was no definition of a public tree.

bob.bruton@sunmedia.ca