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City of Fredericton waiting for provincial approval for Officers’ Square construction

Click to play video 'Battle growing over Fredericton’s plan to chop down trees' Battle growing over Fredericton’s plan to chop down trees
WATCH: Residents opposed to a revitalization plan that will see dozens of trees chopped down in Fredericton are pressuring the city to stop the construction already under way. Adrienne South explains.

New Brunswick’s minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, John Ames, says the City of Fredericton can’t start digging up Officers’ Square or cutting down trees until they receive his approval.

In an email statement, Ames said the entire Garrison District, which includes Officers’ Square, is designated as a Provincial Heritage Place.

“The department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture is still waiting for final plans and specifications from the City of Fredericton to be in a position to deliver a final Provincial Heritage Permit to proceed,” Ames said. “The City is working on the completion of these plans and work is not to commence until final plans approval by the department.”

READ MORE: Fredericton resident plans protest against city’s plan to cut down more than a dozen trees

Ames also said the province hasn’t delivered an Alteration Permit yet.  He said the City will have to submit final plans including vegetation planting and modification before the department can issue the permit.

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Fredericton mayor Mike O’Brien said the City was trying for years to get ownership of the Square while it was still owned by the province.  O’Brien said when the province decided to let the City take ownership, it was conditional on them being allowed to move ahead with the revitalization project.

O’Brien said in 2016 that those conditions included plans to add a skating oval and performance stage.  He said there is a line at the bottom of the contract that said the project is subject to final sign-off by the Minister.

He said the plan has been submitted and that there’s no reason for the minister not to sign off on the permits.

“Them giving us ownership of the park with a permit to do the project certainly would imply that they have to have final sign-off on the plan, but there’s no reason for them not to,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said he will reach out to the Minister’s office to find out what the delay is in getting the final approval.

In addition to the permits needed, Ames said all work impacting Provincial Heritage Places needs to be monitored by a professional archaeologist.

“Archaeological and geophysical evaluations were undertaken to identify potential heritage resources and their location,” Ames said.

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O’Brien said the City has an archaeologist hired as part of the project and said they are adhering to all requirements.

The Minister said the province understands the concerns residents have, and said the government is ready to work in partnership with the City and residents.

“The key is always to find the right balance between protecting what we have and building new sustainable infrastructure and parks that will benefit the community and develop the economy,”Ames said.

READ MORE: Fredericton mayor to take concerns over Officers’ Square tree removal back to council

The trees are listed as part of the character-defining elements of the square.

Residents continue to take action to halt tree removal

Residents are continuing to take action to ensure the City doesn’t go ahead with cutting down 19 historic trees in the Square.

Colourful blankets are now wrapped around trees in Officers’ Square with residents hoping to raise more awareness about the City’s plans to cut them down.

A petition has also been launched that was circulated around the downtown core, and an online version of the petition is also underway.

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Residents rallied outside City Hall Monday night in hopes of getting their issue added to the agenda.

Fredericton’s Lily Smallwood was in attendance at the meeting and said she’s “appalled” by how council handled the request.

“We had been told that it would be presented to go on the agenda, so we were kind of excited,” Smallwood said. “We were happy to know that the City was taking our concerns seriously, which is their job. That’s what they’re there to do and so we were very optimistic and we were very peaceful and we went in.”

Smallwood said that when it came time to add the motion to the agenda, several members of council voted down the discussion.  That led to discontent from the residents gathered in support of keeping the trees, with things getting heated, ending with all but two councillors leaving the chamber.

“It’s not just about the trees,” Smallwood said.  “The trees are something that we’re obviously attached to, we’re very passionate about [but] it’s the idea that our City Council isn’t willing to talk to the public. They’re not even willing to talk to each other and I think that’s a huge issue and it’s very concerning and surprising, which is why I did get loud, because I was shocked.”
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Councillor Kate Rogers brought forward the motion to add the topic to the agenda. She is one of the councillors that stayed in the chamber and said she’s upset with how the majority of councillors responded.

“I was very disappointed by council’s reaction last night, and as far as adding the item to the agenda, I felt it was important to have the item added because there were so many people in the gallery and chambers who wanted to talk about what was happening,” Rogers said.

She said residents have every right to be speaking out and sharing their “shock and disappointment” over the issue.

“This was information that was released very late as far as the removal of the trees [and] what trees would be removed, and I know that we’ve had great consultation and engagement on the overall project, but there has not been much engagement on the tree removal,” Rogers said.

Clarifying the plans

O’Brien said there may be some confusion by the public over why some of the trees need to be removed.

“Of the number of trees that we said have to come down, at least 14 of those — I might be off by one or two — [are] related to the repairs of the fence, the outside wall,” O’Brien said. “The outside walls are reaching their end of life and need to be replaced, and when that happens you have to dig them up, change the foundation and footings and it’s going to compromise all the roots of the trees.”
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He said if a skating oval didn’t go it in might be possible to save a couple trees on the Queen Street side of the Square, but he said even that could compromise the roots.

O’Brien reiterated that the City will be replanting 40 trees in the Square.  He said the vision is to turn the Square into a “world-class, four-season heritage park” that will attract people from all over to the area.

“Right now it’s lawn and sidewalk all around the outside and we’re going to replace and make the lawn a bit bigger and put a skating oval instead of where the sidewalk is, so we’re going to replace concrete sidewalk with [a] concrete skating oval and make the lawn inside … bigger and larger, and we’re going to respect the history and the integrity of the museum,” O’Brien said.