So "the planned permit could significantly increase costs and timelines for the many construction projects they are involved in near city trees" say our utility companies. What they neglected to include in that is that Edmontonians are already bearing the cost of the damage to those trees which aren't adequately protected under current regulations (or lack thereof). Furthermore, not only do Edmontonians pay the financial cost, we bear the cost of a poorer civic environment visually and otherwise as a result of that damage. In the meantime, any permit costs incurred would not only minimize that, they are likely to passed on in full to their customers on specific work or to their ratepayers for non-specific work which is exactly where the costs should be allocated.
I'm friends with someone who works for the city, and he's recently been working on the report about this for the upcoming committee meeting. I asked him about the need for a separate bylaw and application process, and he gave me some great insight.
First, the existing bylaws are not really geared around the preservation of trees. Sure, if a tree is damaged by nearby work, then the company is given a fine. However, it's reactive and so companies don't tend to put a lot of thought into this stuff before damage happens. He pointed out that if some heavy equipment runs over a tree's roots that are sticking out of the ground, it can catastrophically hurt the tree; they can be pretty fragile things. But they also give us a ton of benefits, aside from environmental perks such as helping biodiversity. They cool off the surrounding area, they improve water quality, anchor soil from erosion, freshen our air, sequester carbon and provide oxygen, etc. They do a *lot* for us, but older trees are especially beneficial for us. Since they take a while to grow, we need to protect these old trees so that we can enjoy their benefits, and we need to protect newer trees so that future generations can benefit from them. I know some of this might seem pretty basic, but my friend said that he and his team find it helpful to rehash often, since adding an entire process can seem excessive until you consider why it's important.
The separate application also has some perks. Firstly, it will go to the parks and recreation department instead of urban planning and design.* This is partly because urban planning and design doesn't have any experts in this field; that's just not what it's geared for. If this goes through, parks and recreation will hire some arborists to review applications, and some peace officers for enforcement purposes. If the new application was rolled into the current one, UP&D still wouldn't be the right home for these people. This means that valuable time would be lost as the application bounced between departments and the relevant officials struggled to communicate with their counterparts' departments about specific details. Instead, each application will be able to get processed separately. If the tree protection application is approved first, then the applicants could, in theory, begin preliminary work like clearing land. And even if they can't start that, they will still benefit from the quicker approval times than if the applications were combined.
Although the applications are separate, they will still be streamlined. According to my friend, this is how it is planned to work (if approved): Someone is filling out a development or work application on the current online portal. The application will ask a few questions to gauge the applicability of the tree protection application. If they need to fill one out, then the portal will automatically start the tree protection application for them, so that they do not need to navigate anywhere or do any significant legwork.
I'm all for this bylaw; it sounds like administration has put a lot of effort into a proposal which protects our trees much more than what is currently done, while trying to make it as painless for developers as possible. However, the timeline for this is super tight. If it is approved by the committee this week (I think this Tuesday), then it will go before council in September. If either the committee or council decide to send it back for more analysis, then it'll need to be reintroduced after October's election.
*I might have the wrong department in mind, please correct me if I do.