Well, the final numbers are in on that escapade to save the old maple tree at the Island Savings Centre. The Commission which is responsible for the operation of the Centre met this week. I'm currently on a family vacation with the grandkids in Alberta, so I wasn't at the meeting. But I emailed Centre Manager Terri Askham after the meeting for an update.
One of the things she sent me was a written summary of the notes for a verbal report she had presented to the Commission on the "tree issue” With her permission, here’s the most cogent excerpt:
• A total of $16,245 in direct costs are attributable to the delay in removal of the James Street maple tree.• $6,000 was the direct additional cost required for the contractor to accelerate the entrance and exit work to complete on time with what we’ve referred to as Phase 1.• The remaining $10,245 included added security, signage, legal, arborist and meeting costs.• Financial requirements will mean that while the $6,000 can be charged directly to the project budget, the $10,245 will be absorbed by Island Savings Centre operating budget for 2016.
Yes, you read those numbers correctly. A total of over $16,000 dollars; that’s what the delays have cost the taxpayers. I find that number absolutely astonishing. The last line of Ms. Askham's note is the most troubling to me. More than $10,000 dollars will have to be "absorbed by the ISC operating budget" this year. I wasn't at the meeting so I didn't hear the details of how that would work, but to me, this can only mean one thing. In the bureaucratic parlance of the operations of the Island Savings Centre, the word "operating" means primarily "programming". Recreational programming, and most of that for children from underprivileged families. I suspect it’s that which will be taking a $10,000 dollar hit before the end of this budget year.
I understand some of the idealism that drove the demonstrators. And I can forgive some of them for that. For instance Siearra Courtemanche, the young lady who was the first to climb the tree back on June 28th when we initially resolved to take the tree down, was absolutely upfront about her position. And also very honourable. When a deal had been reached to save large chunks of the tree (before that deal was broken by other protestors, and before we discovered just how bad the rot was), she backed away from the protest. She was patently not part of the demonstration from that time forward.
What I can't understand is the actions of my North Cowichan council-mate, Joyce Behnsen. She was the one who took over as the de-facto "leader" of the save-the-tree movement with Ms. Courtemanche's departure at the end of July. By all accounts, it was Joyce Behnsen who was coordinating the schedule to ensure the tree was “protected” by protestor presence 24 hours a day.
And I truly don't get that. This is the same Councillor Behnsen who is constantly pontificating in Council (and virtually everywhere else) on issues of "spending" and "accountability". She's the first to cry foul every time we need to put out a nickel for virtually anything. And she's also the first to complain that government is "out of touch" with local residents. She's certainly entitled to hold all of those opinions, and she's equally entitled to be passionate about saving a tree. But I can't for the life of me understand how she reconciles her hawkish fiscal positions on other issues with the notion that she led a movement that will result in a $10-thousand dollar hit to recreational programming in our community. Or how she took a position that essentially idolized a tree at the expense of public safety, all the while claiming she was “representing the public” (one of her favourite phrases), when a vast majority of "the public" was clearly onside with taking the tree down.
Perhaps the voters will reward her passion in 2018. Or perhaps, like me, this episode will leave them with a severe case of cognitive dissonance when it comes to Councillor Behnsen's underlying principles. Only time will tell.
I know the Commission made some public statements earlier in the piece about "cost recovery" on this issue. I'm pretty sure that would have been discussed in a closed session at the Commission meeting, but I wasn't there, and I'm not privy to those details. However, knowing what I know about the way these things work, I suspect that at the end of the day, legal action to recover the $16-thousand dollars would be somewhat pointless. We'd likely be laying out as much money in legal fees and court costs as the amount we'd be trying to recover. So this probably turned into a moot point.
The good news out of the meeting this week is that the parking lot construction project is now back on schedule. If the weather holds, paving is scheduled to start a week from Monday, and the entire project will be completed on time.