Red Deer County bent its rules to save trees along a scenic stretch of road being brushed for safety, says the mayor.
Jim Wood defended the county’s maintenance project on Range Road 282 where residents are fuming that a treasured line of black poplars is falling to the mulchers.
Residents along the route between Hwy 11 and 11A, about five km west of Red Deer, complained this week that contractors are slashing far more than the county agreed to following a meeting last week.
Not so, said Wood, who suspects there was s0me misunderstanding about how many of the trees could be preserved while clearing sight lines and improving safety along the three-km stretch of gravel road.
“We did in fact make a compromise in this case, which is not a normal thing for us to do when we do our roads. We try to keep our road right-of-ways clear.”
The county was willing to find a middle ground because of the beauty of the stretch of road and in recognition of the area’s historical connection to the trees that gave Poplar Ridge its name, said the mayor.
To preserve some of the natural beauty of the route, the county agreed to keep a strip of trees, on average 30- to 60-cm wide, and up to a maximum 1.5 metres, along fence lines. Normally, trees and brush would be cut back to the fence or the edge of the right-of-way with no buffer.
HomeHus Antiques owner Susan Manyluk said her understanding was the county had agreed to cut back only about 1.5 metres from the road, not leave that as the maximum width of the tree belt next to the fence line.
Wood said when meeting with residents last Tuesday, the county was clear that the 1.5 metres referred to the tree strip that would be remaining.
“Anyway, miscommunications can happen and that’s no doubt what’s happened in this particular instance.”
The trees and bushes along this road had grown so thick that vehicles couldn’t pass without risk of scratching their paint, he said. Sight lines made it difficult to pull onto the road and would give a driver almost no time to avoid wildlife emerging from the brush, he said.
Wood said the county has received complaints about the state of this road and elsewhere in the county the brushing program has been popular.
“It’s unfortunate that we have one road that can create feelings of hardship for some of our residents.”
Bottom line, the clearing effort is about safety, said the mayor, adding many of the trees are nearing the end of their lifespan and risked toppling.
“Because we cut some trees down it doesn’t mean we’re anti-environment or anti-trees,” he said. “We have a responsibility to ensure that our roads are in fact safe to drive on, that they are maintained properly, and that we have the ability to maintain them at a reasonable cost.”
For residents, suggestions that they could have lost more trees offers little consolation.
Brian DeMaree has lived on the road for 22 years. His wife Sherry grew up in the house they live in, the third generation to live there.
DeMaree said he hadn’t seen a one- to 1.5-metre strip of trees left anywhere. He believes the county could have made the road safer without hacking and slashing so deeply.
“It looks like a war zone. It’s a horrible mess,” he said.
“I’m just really disappointed in what they’re doing. There’s no reason to go all the way back.”
Manyluk has had messages of support from all over the county and hopes the county will rethink how it handles future road clearing plans.
“My road is ruined. “Maybe someone else’s road can be saved if we carry the torch a little further.”
A Facebook page has even been set up called Save the Trees, Save the Bees, which refers to the bee populations living in the trees along the road and which are important for canola pollination.