Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
RUSSELL — A woodlot at the Embrun roundabout will be cleared, not merely to satisfy the visibility needs of a commercial developer, but to meet the mandate of Russell Township in providing an attractive gateway to the municipality.
So says Mayor Pierre Leroux in justifying the plan to remove the bush and replace it with tasteful landscaping. The real beauty of it, Leroux reiterated during Monday’s regular council meeting, is developer Nav Aggarwal will cover cutting and rehabilitation costs as part of his project to construct an A & W restaurant, Ultramar gas station, and car wash at 1044 St. Guillaume Road beside the municipal lot in question.
The mayor said later the Aggarwal project and related beautification is just the beginning in upgrading the entire roundabout area.
A & W construction isn’t set to begin until next spring and no trees will be cut until after a building permit is issued. The item has been a thorn in council’s side for several weeks, with Councillor Cindy Saucier steadfastly opposing clear-cutting.
A previous vote to clear-cut was supported 4-1, with Saucier opposed; last night, a vote was held to enter into a 20-year maintenance agreement with Aggarwal, once again with a 4-1 outcome.
Aggarwal has accepted the agreement on the basis he’ll be permitted to review any cutting and planting contracts entered into by council which retains jurisdiction over the property. As underlined by Councillor Jamie Laurin in discussing the potential “fantastic looking” gateway, Aggarwal has also confirmed that his family charity will commit $10,000 a year for five years to valid environmental projects within the township.
Theoretically, Leroux pointed out, some of that money could go back into sprucing up the disputed lot and other sites near the roundabout. It’s disputed because Saucier, a noted Eastern Ontario environmentalist, wants to leave most of the trees where they stand and made that point again Monday.
She pointed out that a survey conducted by volunteers working with EcoEast discovered 40-plus species of trees growing in the lot, some of them sensitive and rare. She emphasized that several residents have objected to clear-cutting to provide unobstructed visibility to the A & W development, preferring to maintain the natural forest.
Leroux countered that ‘’cut-and-paste’’ objectors don’t have the full story, just one side of it. The opposition is being lead largely by environmental advocacy group EcoEast which maintains that retaining a mature tree canopy helps to beautify the community where so many people are now looking to live.
In a letter sent to council members prior to Monday’s meeting, the group stated that, while it welcomed A & W and recognized the company’s recent efforts to reduce its environmental impact, becoming green leaders in the fast-food industry, council should reconsider clear-cutting the parcel of land.
EcoEast suggested a compromise allowing the required visibility while providing a cool, shaded rest area for the public: Leave 50-75 per cent of mature trees in place and trim lower branches. Related development fees could be directed toward preparation of a park-like landscaping plan incorporating the mature trees.
In making the final decision, council should be guided by its existing Urban Tree Canopy Bylaw, stated the letter signed by EcoEast president Charles Armstrong who added that the Township Environmental Advisory Committee should be asked to review the bylaw to see if it can strengthen the township position on “preserving the few trees we have left in our village streetscapes.”
In a grading released by South Nation Conservation, Russell Township is down to 11 per cent forest cover, one of the lowest numbers among rural municipalities in Eastern Ontario.
In a follow-up email this morning, EcoEast called the A & W sightline issue another example of how council is prepared to bend restrictions to suit developers.
During an interview, Leroux said he can’t see the issue being revisited, that all existing trees and shrubs will be removed, and that new landscaping will start from scratch.