A stop-work order was issued shortly after more than 90 trees were mistakenly felled in Cuthbert Holmes Park on July 14.
Early on Wednesday, July 15, Saanich resident and environmental advocate Dorothy Chambers counted some 93 trees cut down behind Pearkes Recreation Centre.
Saanich later clarified that parks staff confirmed a total of 56 trees were incorrectly removed. Many of them were multi-stem trees – more than one trunk per tree.
The trees were cut as part of construction for a new daycare for Saanich Neighbourhood Place, said District spokesperson Megan Catalano.
The contractor received a tree removal permit from Saanich to remove one bylaw protected tree and a number of non-bylaw protected trees were also to be removed for the development, Catalano said.
“Unfortunately, the contractor made an error and removed trees which were not in the area where tree removal was to occur,” she said. “A stop-work order was placed on the site.”
In 2017, the previous council issued a development permit to Saanich Neighbourhood Place for the new, single-storey daycare facility to be built on the parking lot behind the arena. At the time, council also approved a $253,000 grant to assist with the cost of the project which was estimated at about $1.9 million.
Coun. Judy Brownoff was shocked to hear 93 trees had been cut. She was a member of the 2017 council and recalls after the permit was issued, Saanich staff toured the site with the contractor, Knappett Projects Inc., and an arborist to specify which trees could not be removed.
Brownoff said council was told the new building would be on the existing parking lot asphalt.
Two days before the stop-work order was issued, Chambers received an email from Saanich Parks, Recreation and Community Services saying Knappett contractors would begin work on July 14. After work began, a neighbour reached out to Chambers with concerns that trees were coming down behind his home near the Pearkes arena. She assumed the noise was part of regular work and possibly the installation of tree-protection fencing but she felt uneasy and went to check on Wednesday morning.
After counting the felled trees, Chambers called the District of Saanich and reported the incident. Municipal staff then issued a stop-work order as the trees were cut in violation of the tree protection bylaw.
“This was meant to be a positive project to introduce more daycare spaces to the community … now it’s environmental degradation,” Brownoff said.
Brownoff expects municipal staff will submit a report to council on the matter – likely to be discussed at a closed meeting due to the legal nature of the incident.
On July 17, Catalano said municipal staff were working with the contractor to “outline the problem and provide next steps” for removing the stop-work order. She added that there will likely be penalties.
Editors note: This story was updated July 21 to confirm the number of trees incorrectly removed.