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Escarpment tree cutting

Mar 06, 2017

Recommendations to clear trees and shrubs from dozens of locations along the edge of the urban escarpment were included in the approved 2017 capital budget but appear to contain serious errors including a misunderstanding of the regulatory role of the Niagara Escarpment Commission. The Mountain Brow Vista Management Plan along 17 kilometres of the escarpment was initiated by Tom Jackson and is scheduled to primarily take place in his east mountain ward six. Public consultation was limited to three meetings in the centre of his ward and almost entirely excluded the opinions of lower city residents.

The project was kicked off by a personal motion by Jackson in September 2015 with the support of then central mountain councillor Scott Duvall that cited “an ongoing interest by the citizens of Wards 6 and 7 for scenic vistas along the geographic area of the mountain brow”. It originally didn’t include the west mountain ward of Terry Whitehead who said he was “surprised that my colleagues didn’t bring me into this discussion”. An amendment extended the study across all three mountain wards and Whitehead agreed to share the costs.

Jackson explained that there had been “a plea for a number of years for regular maintenance and removal of the dead branches, the suck-up bushes, the weeds [and] the foliage that exists along the brow that takes away from the beautiful panoramic view.” He assured his council colleagues that “people in my area, my constituents, overwhelmingly would like to see some of these designated vista areas improved” and noted that there was growing popularity in the area because of Albion Falls.

However, the selected study area didn’t go anywhere near the falls, only extending to the intersection of Mountain Brow and Mohawk Road. It also focused heavily on Jackson’s ward – with 54 of the original 87 existing and potential vistas located there, including 22 of the 32 new ones.

Three public consultation meetings all took place at Sherwood Library in the middle of Jackson’s ward. There were three on-line questionnaires, but they attracted little attention with no one responding to one, and 21 people filling in each of the other two.

The quarter million dollar project – nearly half for the consultant study – also affects locations in the central and west mountain wards of Donna Skelly and Terry Whitehead and is being paid jointly from the three councillors personally controlled slush funds. It was pushed through council in late November in order to squeeze it into the 2017 capital budget adopted a few days later.

But that was before final comments were supplied by Niagara Escarpment Commission staff and those now appear to contradict the assurances given to council that the plan does “not conflict with restrictions imposed by the NEC as work associated with the recommendations in this report are not defined as development.” The NEC comments delivered last month warn that at least some tree removals require a development permit application [DPA].

“Since the scope and timing of tree cutting is yet to be determined by the City of Hamilton, NEC staff cannot make a definitive decision on the applicability of the exemption criteria at this time,” states the letter. “Therefore, NEC Staff would request that when the project does move forward, a tree / vegetation removal plan be completed and that this plan be submitted as part of the DPA.”

The council-approved staff report is also unclear about exactly which sites will be cleared of inconvenient vegetation. It calls for “selective removal and pruning of existing vegetation” at 29 current escarpment edge sites plus 17 new ones. But these are identified only by an accompanying set of maps which show 32 new sites along with 55 current ones.

The mapping actually indicates locations identified by Dillon consulting when the company began development of the vista management plan more than a year ago. The 138-page report says “the 87 preliminary vista locations were narrowed down to 52 vista locations, of which 32 were existing and 20 potential vistas.” That 35 megabyte report was obtained by CATCH but can’t be found on the city’s website.

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