Harriet and Gerald Graham stand near one of what they say are five healthy Garry oak trees that Saanich plans to cut down to help improve travel by foot and bicycle on Finnerty Road between McKenzie Avenue and Edgelow Street. Yellow notices announcing the removal of the trees appeared on Jan. 28, but it is not clear when the removal will actually happen. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Saanich residents want municipality to show creativity in saving trees

Petition against cutting down five healthy Garry oak trees has collected 80 signatures

A Saanich couple is calling on the municipality to show more creativity to save five healthy Garry oak trees slated for removal.

“They are endangered species,” said Harriet Graham, who has been working with her husband Gerald Graham and others in the neighbourhood to save the trees. To this end, she and other local residents have collected up to 80 signatures. Children attending a daycare opposite the trees have also spoken out against the loss of the trees.

“These are very big trees,” she said. “They are huge and they’re healthy. I have talked to an arborist, and he said they are healthy.”

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Saanich plans to remove the five trees described as healthy along with a sixth Garry oak from a 500-plus-metre stretch of Finnerty Road from McKenzie Avenue to Edgelow Street as part of transportation and infrastructure upgrades that promise to improve travel by foot and by bicycle in the area, which includes the University of Victoria. The project will also replace and upgrade aging water mains to improve water flows to fight fire and upgrade local streetlights to LED.

Megan Catalano, Saanich’s spokesperson, said the municipality plans to remove 11 trees as part of this project: seven mature trees and four young trees.

Catalano said Saanich has tried to reduce the impact on the trees where possible, adding that it has regularly talked with residents through meetings and correspondence. Saanich, she said, has told residents that the municipality will replace each lost tree with two new ones in the neighbourhood, bringing the total number of replacement trees to 22.

While Harriet Graham acknowledged these efforts, she said the replacement trees will not be like the trees lost. Gerald Graham agrees. While he supports the infrastructure upgrades in general in describing himself as an “avid cyclist,” he said that they do not have to come at the expense of the trees.

Saanich, by way of background, plans to expand the current bike lane on the east side of Finnerty Road into a two-way cycling track, while adding a pedestrian-sidewalk on the opposite side of the road, where the trees stand.

“Of the 520 metres, it is only about 120 metres where the trees are,” he said. “So basically, you are cutting down six trees for the sake of 120 metres of sidewalk on that side, because their roots are too close to the curb. Find a solution. Engineers are good at finding solutions.”

Time though is running out. Saanich gave notice on Jan. 28 that it plans to remove the trees and individuals can receive information from Saanich within 10 working days.

“The date for tree removal has not yet been finalized,” said Catalano.

The total cost of the project, which aims to improve active transportation by improving cycling safety, connectivity, and accessibility on Finnerty Road between McKenzie Avenue and Arbutus Road, has a price tag of $1.05 million, with 50 per cent of the funding coming from the provincial government, if a grant application under the BikeBC Program succeeds.

Saanich plans to go ahead with the project regardless of the application’s success.

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