Three days after public outrage over cutting down cherry trees in front of the federal building on Fourth Street and Second Avenue West, the Mayor of Prince Rupert released his own response, which he chose to do through Facebook.
Titling his post “Statement + Facts Regarding The Cherry Blossom Trees” Mayor Lee Brain wrote: “First, I just want to say that we are just as equally shocked and saddened regarding the cutting of the cherry blossom trees.”
He starts with a history of the cherry trees, which you can find in a story by the Northern View published today, Monday, March 26.
The rest of the mayor’s post is as follows:
Folks, as Mayor I do my best to weigh all the facts / different sides of a story before making an opinion or statement on any given matter. Although many would rather me react immediately / emotionally to situations that occur in the community, it’s truly my job to have patience and understanding and to hear all voices regarding a multitude of issues in the community before taking actions that could potentially effect the long term future of our community. My personal governing style is to be ‘firm but fair’, and I like to exhaust all diplomatic / communication options before I escalate my actions or become more firm in my resolve to make our community a better place to live.
That being said, I’ve spent the weekend talking to different people and have found out what actually happened here, so below are the *actual* facts of this situation, so here they are:
1. The decision to cut down the trees came from Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC – formerly known as Public Works Canada). This department is in charge of things such as landscaping federal property, etc.
2. The decision was NOT made by DFO, or anyone working in that building (I know the employees there are also equally as shocked and concerned). No prior notice was given to them or their department. Please stop directing your anger to their staff, they are good people who are residents of this community and care equally about those trees just like everyone else.
3. After talking to PSPC, they mentioned to me that the contract simply mentioned ‘general landscaping’ as part of their new policy to ‘modernize’ federal properties, but the contract did not specify any removal of trees. If removal of trees had been part of the language in the contract, they believe they would have treated this situation differently. The trees were not in poor condition and I told them that this is absolutely unacceptable, particularly due to the historic significant of those trees. It is quite evident to me that they feel absolutely terrible about this situation, and that they never would have caused this much heartache if they had known about their significance (hence checking in with the community before hand). Thus, they have confirmed they want to make amends and make this situation right for the community in the near future. We are working with them now to ensure that:
a) this doesn’t happen again
b) that they consult with the community before any decisions like this are made
c) that they make amends and make this right with the community – as well as to pay tribute to the history and the Shimizu family.
4. Permitting: PSPC’s contractors came in to the City on Tuesday to request a ‘sidewalk closure permit’ from the City so they could park their vehicles on that street for longer than two hours and encumber the sidewalk. The City inquired what for, and they mentioned to cut down the trees. Our engineering department mentioned they could not cut down those trees, but the contractors claimed they were on federal property. Our surveying crew then came out to check whether these trees were in fact on federal property, and discovered that they were. The federal government does not need a permit from the City to cut down trees on their property. The sidewalk closure permit was not granted that day, and on Friday morning they started cutting the trees down, without an authorized sidewalk closure permit until midway through. Our engineering department did what they could midstream to try to stop the situation, but legally could not do anything about it. Never in a million years would Council or anyone at the City chop these beautiful trees down.
Although the feds are ‘legally’ in their rights to have done this, based on the historic significance of these beautiful specimens I’ve formally requested PSPC to make this situation right, which they are absolutely willing to do, and we will be exploring those options in the coming weeks. If you have some suggestions on what they should do to honour the history of these trees + make it better, please comment your suggestions below (and be respectful in your comments please).
It is such a shame that this happened, particularly in a time when we’re trying to rebuild and bring pride back from a long economic depression after the mill closed. Although the deed is now done, I won’t stop until PSPC makes this situation right with the community. I’m a firm believer that when one door closes, another one opens.
In your service,
Mayor Lee Brain