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Tree-top controversy takes over in Magrath

Posted on May 1, 2014 by Westwind Weekly

Beginning last year the Town of Magrath embarked on a mission to beautify the town. They started by grooming and removing some of the trees in front of the town office, and continue to progress with the warm weather.

Although the beautification plan falls in line with council’s strategy to reinvent the town’s look, by implicating the plan the fate of the town’s beloved Hometown Christmas Tree now hangs in the balance.

Many citizens have taken to social media website Facebook to express their distaste for council’s recent motion to remove all of the trees, both in front of and surrounding the town office, last Tuesday.

A highlight to every Christmas season, one child is selected out of a group of equally eager and willing participants who hold their hands outstretched in hopes of being chosen to light the iconic tree each year. But with the town’s decision to cut down all the trees surrounding and in front of the town office, the proposed plan is being questioned on whether it really is what’s best for the town.

“When the decision to expand on the firehall came (we looked at the trees encroaching on the hall in the alleyway). And they didn’t allow for very good access or visibility for an ambulance or firetruck to travel down that alley,” said Mayor Russ Barnett of the decision to remove the trees.

“We trimmed some of those trees and when we saw what some of them looked like after removing (some) last year, (council decided) they all needed to go. Some of them were so ugly, because they had grown so closely over the years, that when we cut down one (the tree closest to it) had no branches on that side.”

Mostly due to the need to improve visibility and access for the Magrath Fire Department and Emergency Services, the decision was made official once news of the grant for expansion was received – sometime last summer.

“It impeded visibility and that’s a big issue,” Barnett said of the trees. “The trees were overgrown and council didn’t really think the whole area (in front of the town office) was atheistically pleasing – as well the drainage is bad along the post office part of the alley.”

Other issues with the trees near the town office were sited as: one tree being hollow and described as “not very safe,” in addition to the acidity of the pine needles the previous trees left impacted the health of the grass.

Currently the plan is to clean up the entire back alley access both to and from the firehall, as well as plant some new trees in place of the old ones. Some landscaping to both remove the old stumps and improve the existing lot will also be done.

“Nobody on council is a tree hater. We just wanted to be safe, and to clean up the drainage in that alley and to improve that whole landscaping/streetscape area in front of town hall,” he said.

“All in all it was the opinion of the council that all of the trees needed to be removed to start again, and to fit in with what the new streetscape would look like. So we thought it best to start from scratch.”

Although the distinctive Hometown Christmas Tree remains standing for now, new landscape development plans are in the works and will be presented to council in the near future. They will also eventually determine the fate of the town’s beloved tree.

“We left it and are going to draw up a new landscape plan and we will see how (the tree) fits – (those plans will be) based on the availability of a large, new pine tree,” Barnett said of the plans.

“Limited consideration was given to the Hometown Christmas Tree . . . knowing you can purchase and transplant large trees.”

The mayor went on to say the decision to purchase a large, new pine tree to take the place of the Hometown Christmas Tree, would largely depend on available budget dollars.

“I’m very grateful the mayor listening to the concern of myself and many citizens about cutting down the Hometown Christmas Tree,” said citizen Carma Thomson. “Myself and many other citizens are very disappointed that the trees came down – but I was assured a new plan is in (the works) so I am very excited to see new trees and landscaping in place.”

Although citizens in town “weren’t informed” from the start, Barnett said, the initial feelings on the matter have subsided following the town’s promise to look into alternative solutions.

“I think the new landscaping will look nice – it will just take some time to mature,” said chief administrative officer Wade Alston of the plans he is drafting for council’s approval.

All plans, and proposed plans, will be made public in both council meetings, as well as on the town’s website at http://www.magrath.ca. For more information, or if you have questions regarding this issue please contact the town office at 403-758-3212.

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