Residents horrified by brutal trimming

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It may look like a tornado went through the County Road 9 corridor between Creemore and Dunedin, as described by Websterville resident Helen Blackburn, but the destruction is manmade. On the morning of June 3, a loud noise and flashing lights alerted her to the presence of crews using flail mowers to cut trees and brush along the roadway. Now she looks across at the devastation and feels anger. Like others, she has voiced her opposition to the practice of cutting trees and brush in this manner but has received no explanation.

She and other residents are questioning why on earth the trees would be cut so far back, about 30 feet from the road’s edge, and why in such a brutal manner?

They aren’t buying County of Simcoe staff explanations about sightlines, safety, and snow storage.

If anything, Blackburn says the trees have proven to be a windbreak to reduce drifting snow, improving visibility in winter, and help with drainage. Blackburn points out that the trees help to cool the corridor, absorb carbon dioxide produced by passing vehicles, and buffer the noise and pollution for the benefit of the people living along the road.

“I have lived and owned property beside County Road 9 all of my 88 years,” Blackburn wrote to county councillors. “I have driven frequently on this road and have also walked on the road allowance several days a week. I have seen firsthand the conditions of the road allowance.”

She said the haphazard cutting leaves the trees scarred, inviting disease and pests, further threatening the health of the trees. She hopes that some of the vegetation will recover but knows that the limbs severed from the spruce trees will never grow back.

Along the roadway tree limbs have been hacked off leaving jagged edges and hanging branches, their trunks scored by blades.

Paul Eprile, who lives closer to Dunedin, calls the devastation horrifying.

“Something is out of balance with this,” said Eprile. “We know that management is necessary for safety, road maintenance and waste collection, and this has been done properly up until now.”

They believe the June 3 job contracted out by the County of Simcoe is particularly devastating to the trees and possibly to nesting birds.

“What carnage,” said Eprile. “Who deemed it necessary?”

He argues that there was way more snow in year’s past, yet the vegetation has never been hacked to this degree.

He wants the county to reassess the mechanization of the tree clearing and look at how much more it would cost to pay wages to people who could trim the trees properly, similar to the way hydro crews clear trees away from power lines.

He sees it as part of a troubling trend toward delocalization and centralized decision making without any notice or consultation with residents.

“The county and the township have made big noise about attracting tourists and this Noisy River route is a beautiful, protected area,” said Eprile. “People are going to be horrified and that will damage the economy.”

In his feedback to the county Eprile wrote, “All in all this operation was a mindless application of inappropriate technology and a waste of taxpayer money. It is literally sickening.”

Resident Tim Armour points out that widening the sightlines only encourages speeding on county roads and that back when people drove at a reasonable speed, narrower sightlines were perfectly adequate.

“It is agreed, initially the contractor hired was a little too aggressive with the amount of limb removal. This was addressed and corrected within the first day of work and the contractor was more closely supervised,” said Christian Meile, the County of Simcoe’s director, transportation and engineering. “Our transportation maintenance manager did assess the brushing work on County Road 9. Brushing in the past may have been done with smaller equipment and tools. The type of equipment used here has been used in other areas of the county as well and is overall much more efficient.”

Arbourist Patrick Pugliese, owner of Windy Ridge Tree Care and Consulting, says it is a common practice to use this kind of mower or grinder to remove roadside vegetation for the sake of efficiency.

“The manner in which it is being handled I believe is poor and I believe we can do better,” said Pugliese. “There is a better way they could have approached it. Unfortunately that comes with a higher price tag. I try to be pragmatic in being understanding about what our tax dollars are able to do but also advocating that there are better ways and middle grounds that could be reached that could benefit both the trees and the community.”

He said in the perfect world, people would be hired to go through the road corridor and trim the trees with saws, as opposed to using a machine from the roadside.

“The grinding just leaves hundreds of open wounds,” said Pugliese. “Often times they overstrike it and will hit trunks, or they understrike it and leave these big nubs that are vectors for rot and disease to enter a tree.”

He said the trunk is the tree’s nervous system, and damage to it affects the entire tree.

Pugliese said with a little budgetary wiggle room, extra care could be taken in certain areas to avoid larger trees and vulnerable species such as red oak, which is susceptible to oak wilt, maples during sapping, or any tree during times of drought. He said if done properly, pruning can be done to achieve all the goals and objectives of the road authority while improving the health of the trees.

He is surprised that work was done after April 1, potentially impacting nesting birds because there are regulations in place even on construction projects that require ecological inspections to ensure no nesting birds are present.

Meile told The Echo, “We do consider bird nesting seasons (April to August) when completing large tree removal projects, but not when completing this type of smaller, roadside brushing work.”

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