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City workers to root out problem trees in downtown Nanaimo

Downtown tree roots heaving sidewalks and curbs are causing tripping hazards, mobility issues
Nanaimo city council voted unanimously Monday for work to proceed to remove trees that are ruining sidewalks and replacing those trees with more appropriate species for their locations. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Decorative trees in Nanaimo’s downtown core that are damaging sidewalks and curbs and creating tripping hazards are about to be dealt with by city work crews.

At Monday’s city council meeting, councillors gave the go-ahead for city crews to start working to remediate the root-growth areas around trees and remove trees that have caused the most damage or have become unsafe.

“The challenge is that some streets trees have aggressive roots or were never really provided with appropriate root-growing space, so they’ve adapted to the environment by lifting concrete panels or pavers and in some cases the curb in the road is damaged as a result of this,” said Poul Rosen, city director of engineering, in his report to council.

The damage, Rosen said, can create unsafe conditions for pedestrians and people with mobility challenges and it is difficult for city crews to keep up maintenance around the bases of the trees with the constant growth of the roots continually adding more damage.

“The street trees downtown, they can be of great value and removing them can be a sensitive subject, in particular if the tree is in good shape or it has other special meaning to the community,” Rosen said.

City staff plan to tackle a small number of trees that have become problematic downtown and include three red maples on Commercial Street near Skinner Street that have lifted paving stones with roots are too high to simply raise the sidewalk around them. One of the three trees is also unhealthy and stunted. City workers will remove the three trees, repair the sidewalks and create sufficient growing space for new roots and then replace the trees with an “appropriate species for the location.”

A tree on Skinner Street near Bastion Street will also be removed because it has suffered damage, possibly by wind, but will not be replaced because of the narrowness of the sidewalk.

Rosen said other tree locations around downtown, such as those near the Vancouver Island Conference Centre that have caused lesser amounts of damage, will be treated with methods that could mitigate damage. That could include installing rubber paving stones and other ideas that are being explored.

The long-term proposal is to deal with a few of the most problematic trees each year to impact as few trees as possible. Trees that have high historical or sentimental value in the community could be left in place and the sidewalks around them receive more frequent maintenance.

Council voted unanimously to direct city staff to proceed with the work planned for 2020, which will deal with the trees at Commercial and Skinner streets.

“The issue of street tree management and sidewalk quality is something staff have been working on for some time; however, it is related the age of the trees and the extent of the sidewalk damage,” Rosen said in an e-mail Wednesday. “Many of the trees were installed decades ago with a major downtown revitalization and it took them quite a few years to become problematic. In other words, when the trees were young it just wasn’t a problem. In the future, as the trees downtown grow this type of problem will continue and we need a process for managing it that the community finds acceptable.”

Rosen said ginkgo biloba, raywood ash and red oak are among a list of tree species currently under consideration to replace the ones that will be removed.

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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