Saturday, September 10, 2016

What's it cost to save a tree??

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.


  1. While Al and I agree on most things, on this one, we do not. I also take offense that this blog undertakes considerable character assassination instead of focus on one side of this issue, debate or difference of opinion. Simple put this was simply a cost to allowing democracy to proceed. This is not North Korea thank goodness.

    Unfortunately this rant fails to recognize that "the other side" is not wrong; but held a differing view. And that view was supported by many in this community. So, lets turn the tables a minute. The tree is left in place because our staff. elected and appointed officials recognized the tree as having some community value for retention. The engineering of the "new" parking lot (and underlying infrastructure), engineering cost I believe I read cost $60,000 (correct me if I'm wrong), could have been saved, the established trees could have been saved (it will take years of little green bag watering & maintenance to re-establish them - (add this cost into the mix). The parking lot was is disrepair; no question about it. Leave the access and egress as is and fix them up (they were not unsafe), provide proper signage and paint clear in & out arrows. Remove and replace all the lot curbing (it was broken and crumbing) throughout the lot, and removed where necessary and replace the asphalt and its done. A staggering lot of money could have been saved so lets not talk about this inconvenience as if its somehow disgraceful. It is nothing more than the cost of DEMOCRACY, please get over it. Should our elected and appointed officials have reached a different decision, then all this mess and wasted tax payers funds would have been avoided.

    The issue of the new parking lot drainage and septic lines is another debate. There was no issue with water prior to this redevelopment so I will take the position that a repair job as I have noted would have sufficed. I gather though that our regional and muni staff had designs on new infrastructure therefore the pressure was there to do a full re-engineer and replace. I have no idea if alternate infrastructure was possible, but its sort of redundant now.

    1. "...considerable character assassination"? Seriously? As I said, Coun. Behnsen is fully entitled to her opinions. But expressing the notion that - in my mind - those opinions amount to cognitive dissonance is equally something I believe I am entitled to express. And doing so has nothing to do with "character assassination." It is simply stating facts. You're right. We don't live in North Korea. But that also applies to those who happen to disagree with you on this issue, sir.

      As to saving a "staggering amount of money" per your suggestions for the parking lot, you're right in the sense that the money wouldn't have been spent. But a lot of the work would have been left undone. Sorry, but your logic is like saying you could save 50% of the cost of re-roofing your house, as long as you only put shingles on half of the roof.

      And the infrastructure? Governments are constantly criticized for inefficiencies when they repave a road (or a parking lot), and then come along a few years later and dig the whole thing up to replace the underground stuff; water lines, sewer lines, etc. And we would have faced that same (legitimate) criticism if we had left the work undone while doing the parking lot fix, only to have the pipes fail in a few years. They were due for replacement.

  2. The fact that the $10,000 will have to come from programming makes me sick. The fact that the taxpayers have been robbed of $16K with no consequences makes me sad. What a waste of money. All we can do now is move forward.

  3. Or perhaps the voters in 2018 will commend you with being the voice of reason and vote you in with the most votes and show Joyce the proverbial one way door!!