16 June 2011
by Cathy Ellis, Rocky Mountain Outlook

banff_avenue_-_cascade_mountain

Banff is spending close to $90,000 to replace a bunch of dead and dying trees along its famed tourist strip.

Although it’s a tough economy and a tight budget year, council saw the value in spending the bucks to return the 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue to a picture-postcard state.

Councillor Stavros Karlos said the money is well spent, noting one of the highlights of Banff Refreshing (infrastructure replacement) was to bring permanent vegetation into the downtown core.

“Banff Avenue is one of the most photographed strips in the country and having planter boxes sitting empty or vandalized was not the vision of Banff Refreshing,” he said during a meeting, Monday (June 13).

“It’s been one of the most disappointing things to me, and as far as I’m concerned, Banff Refreshing is not done and we need to finish this project.”

About 97 of the initial 174 trees planted as part of Banff Refreshing have died and many of the remaining trees are showing signs of damage or stress.

The problem was traced to a flawed irrigation system and poor soil, as well as chemical de-icers and salt, people walking on the beds, drunken louts, vandalism and unusual and dramatic weather fluctuations.

The money to pay for the new trees and plants is coming from the budget stabilization fund, which has a balance of $484,071. That fund was created to cover unexpected expenditures or loss of revenue to avoid a deficit.

Councillor Paul Baxter was the only voice of opposition on the issue.

“I am open to having this discussion in the next budget process,” he said. “I thought the budget stabilization fund would be used for more dire matters, not for trees.”

The Town will also put up small signs in the rock planter beds and provide information to educate the public on the importance of the landscape and sensitivity of the plantings.

Councillor Leslie Taylor welcomed that idea.

“The other day I watched someone jump into a planter and chain his bike to a birch tree and I just wanted to throttle him,” she said.

“I hope we can teach people these are living organisms that need to be respected.”

At the 2008 completion of Banff Refreshing – a $23 million project to replace century-old underground water and sewer pipes and spruce up the downtown – several trees began to show signs of distress.

In 2009, the Town replaced about half of the initial plantings, the irrigation system was retrofitted and the engineered soil was augmented with compost and topsoil around the root bulbs.

Nadine Setzer, the Town of Banff’s grounds supervisor, said most of the trees that were replaced did very well and were thriving as a result of improvements made to the irrigation system and soil composition.

She said unfortunately though, Alberta experienced a much warmer September than usual, followed by a rapid fall in temperature in October.

This weather pattern didn’t allow the trees to ‘harden off’ prior to their dormancy state over the winter, she said, resulting in significant province-wide tree mortality, including 71 of the Banff Avenue trees.

She said vandalism also resulted in the loss of an additional 10 trees.

“In total, 71 were cut down; however, the root balls were left in place in the planter beds due to budget constraints,” said Setzer.

There was no warranty period for any planter material because of the way the contract was set up.

There also appears to be no recourse to go after the landscape architecture consultant for money due to problems with the soil composition.

“It was somewhat inconclusive in the end over whose fault it was,” said Randall McKay, the Town’s manager of planning and development.

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