Kyle Mickailyk’s favourite tree in the entire city stands preserved just off the side of an alley on Stony Plain Road near 139 Street in the Glenora neighbourhood, where the Valley Line West LRT is being built.
Like any tree in a municipal setting, it thrives from the mixture of nature, policy, partnership and perseverance.
“It’s a massive, beautiful, majestic oak tree that was in a lot the City purchased in anticipation of the LRT alignment,” said Mickailyk, an Urban Forester with the City of Edmonton.
“You will see it encased in a lot of fast fencing for now,” he said. “A good tree preservation plan does this to ensure that the roots and soil are not damaged.”
If you stand near the oak, you will notice how wide the fenced area is—more than six square metres. The project agreement for the Valley Line West states that a fence goes up around a tree designated as protected or preserved if it is within 20 metres of construction.
“In the areas where there is no alley asphalt or sidewalk, the fencing is set up to approximately equal the tree’s dripline, which is the outer edge of the tree’s branches,” said Mickailyk.
Levels of protection
Standing there, you will notice something else, too. On the fence that protects the tree and its roots is a sign of the tree’s asset value. To be precise: $23,970.13.
The “asset value” does not include the range of ecological benefits that trees provide, Mickailyk said. Trees capture carbon dioxide, produce oxygen and manage stormwater. They provide shade. They offer beauty. They are homes for animals.
“The value is put on the tree to show the public as well as the contractors working around the tree that there is value to a tree,” said Mickailyk.
“The number you see on the sign is just the asset value of the tree,” he said. “If it were to be damaged, there could be penalties added to that cost. Think of it like another level of protection to go along with the tree protection fence that is in place.”
Kyle Mickailyk is part of a dedicated Urban Forestry team whose job it is to uphold the Corporate Tree Management Policy or, as he says, “be a voice for the trees.”
Mickailyk works exclusively with trees on the alignment for the Valley Line West LRT, which is now in its first full year of construction. His job has meant a lot of footwork. Last year alone, Mickailyk and City colleagues walked the length of the line six times.
“From 102 Street and 102 Avenue to the Lewis Farms Park & Ride facility, it’s actually just shy of 14 kilometres one way,” he said. “We assessed every single tree to confirm their health and condition.”
Those tree condition assessments complemented years of project work to help inform decision makers about the trees that might be removed and those to be protected and preserved along the Valley Line West LRT route.
“We try to work with these projects right from concept stage through final drawings to minimize impacts,” said Jacqueline Butler, the City of Edmonton’s Projects Forestry Leader. “That is our number one goal—to minimize. We can’t stop construction. We realize that there are a lot of interests. But ours is trees.”
A preserved tree, Butler explained, cannot be removed. A protected tree should remain, if at all possible.
“On this LRT project, decisions about assigning a preservation or protection status to a tree is based on the condition of the tree, location and value,” said Butler. “Species will also be considered. If it’s more of a rare species, that can be a designation for preservation versus protection. Size. Historical value. Where it is located within a neighbourhood. All of those are factors.”
The guidelines are used by Marigold Infrastructure Partners, the City of Edmonton’s contractor responsible for designing and building the Valley Line West LRT.
Marigold: 2,000 new trees
To help offset the tree removal, Marigold will plant at least 2,000 new trees and shrubs along the route as a part of a full landscaping plan once construction is completed.
“While every effort is made to protect trees and vegetation, tree removal is an unfortunate but necessary part of construction,” said Brad Baumle, Construction Manager with Marigold Infrastructure Partners. “While City of Edmonton trees are required for removal to accommodate Valley Line West LRT construction, upon completion, Marigold’s landscaping plans include more trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses than are being removed. This will help enhance the city’s landscape.”
The project agreement binds the company to work in such a way that trees are not damaged, and it lays out penalties for infractions.
Butler said the City looks to Marigold and its forestry professionals to make the right call on trees in the construction zone.
“They have professionals to help with those decisions,” said Butler.
Low-floor, urban-style LRT
The fate of removed public trees along the Valley Line West LRT route is contained in the design of the line itself.
Like the Valley Line Southeast that will connect downtown to Mill Woods, the Valley Line West is an example of low-floor, urban-style LRT. Unlike the style of LRT that Edmontonians may be more familiar with (think Capital Line and its path along rail corridors from Clareview to Churchill stations), the Valley Line West will be more integrated into existing neighbourhoods.
From downtown, the line will run west along 102 Avenue, north on 107 Street, west on 104 Avenue past MacEwan University and past Unity Square, along the Glenora neighbourhood and Stony Plain Road to 156 Street. From there, the line will head south, hooking onto 87 Avenue and up along a guideway to an elevated station at the Misericordia Hospital, then over 170 Street to the elevated station at West Edmonton Mall before heading further west to Lewis Farms at Webber Greens Drive (87 Avenue), west of Anthony Henday Drive.
The line, to be up and running in 2027, will move by, through or near the neighbourhoods of Downtown, Oliver, Glenora, Grovenor, Canora, West Jasper Place, Glenwood, Meadowlark Park, Sherwood, West Meadowlark Park, Elmwood, Summerlea, Thorncliff, Belmead, Aldergrove, Potter Greens and Webber Greens.
Utilities and roots
This design means some existing underground utilities (power, water, gas, communications) must be relocated, and that means the root systems of some trees will no longer have healthy room to support a tree. Stony Plain Road will go down to one lane of automobile traffic in each direction, with an optimal number of turning lanes in place to keep traffic safely flowing. Turning lanes and the need for safe sightlines will compete for space with trees. On the corner of some intersections, new crosswalks and pedestrian accessibility ramps will be built. They, too, will put pressure on trees. Construction itself and the vehicles needed for construction will impact trees.
Phase two under way
Approximately 300 trees on City property, including boulevards in front of residences and open spaces, are being removed in the current phase of tree removal on the Valley Line West LRT route.
The work is being carried out by arborists working for Marigold, and will happen along Stony Plain Road/104 Avenue between 139 Street and 121 Street.
Some trees have already been removed from public property in areas along the Valley Line West LRT route in the area of 139 Street west to the Lewis Farms Transit Centre. That work, which is now complete, started in fall 2021.
Talking to people along the way
Preliminary design of the Valley Line West LRT was approved in 2019. Vital to the project were the conversations with people through whose neighbourhoods the LRT will pass.
“We’ve been advising the public that tree removals along the line were going to happen and that more trees would be planted than would be removed,” said Meilai Ha, Partnerships Manager for Valley Line West in the City’s Integrated Infrastructure Services Department.
City teams and teams from Marigold have listened and met and talked and shared information with Edmontonians with LRT-related questions. Ha calls it an “intensive stakeholder engagement” of public meetings, one-on-one dialogues, brochures, public notices, hand-delivered notices and website updates.
That work hasn’t stopped.
On September 17, 2022, more than 80 people came out to a green space near 133 Street and Stony Plain Road for the Glenora Open Air event, which was an opportunity to ask questions, share concerns and get the latest information.
For natural reasons, public attention during Valley Line West tree removals is on the trees being removed.
“If you’re been living in a neighborhood, that tree has also been there,” said Mickailyk. “You become familiar with it.”
There are other stories, too. They are the quiet stories of bureaucracy at work, the stories of meetings held years ago where the idea to alter a roadway design meant an elm tree was saved. Or meetings where proposed vehicular turn bays were removed to keep trees standing. Or meetings where roadway design guidelines were used to slightly narrow the right of way for the space needed to keep trees.
Here are two more of those stories.
Story #1: Seven Oaks are relocated
By the summer of 2021, the future of seven oaks near the Beer Revolution restaurant in Unity Square near 104 Avenue and 117 Street was in doubt. The plot was familiar. The 20-year-old trees faced removal so that infrastructure could go in for the Valley Line West LRT.
Mickailyk and colleagues geared up. They hatched a plan to transplant the oaks, which were young and small enough to withstand the procedure.
The team visited the site multiple times. Emails flew. Communication with stakeholders and contractors happened. Location surveying took place. Work permits were acquired. September arrived. Then the giant spade truck arrived, too. It was time to put the transplant strategy into action.
“We found utilities where we planned to dig and we had to call in experts to come in to disconnect certain lines, then we had to pivot where we were moving the trees to,” said Mickailyk.
The process took longer than expected because of the need to coordinate the work of all the involved parties, said Mickailyk.
“In the end it was worth all the work to save those trees,” said Mickailyk.
The oak trees are now “living out the rest of their days,” as Mickailyk said, in Glenwood Park, near 97 Avenue and 164 Street.
Story #2: A Ponderosa Pine stays put
Some trees, like those seven oaks, are saved by creative transplanting. Other trees stay put when creative people see opportunities years ahead and dig in. That’s why the Ponderosa Pine in a pocket park near Stony Plain Road and Connaught Drive isn’t going anywhere.
“We were having meetings and we looked at the trees there and said these ones are worthy of being preservation trees,” said Brice Davidson of ISL Engineering and Land Services, who works with City foresters on the Valley Line West LRT.
“One of those trees, the pine, is not that common—and fairly large.”
The plan now is to redevelop the pocket park around the pine and other trees, providing a healthy place for both the trees and the animals of all shapes and sizes who rely on them.
City Plan, LRT and trees
Valley Line West LRT, the City’s biggest-ever infrastructure project, will connect west end communities and facilities—including West Edmonton Mall and the Misericordia Hospital—to Edmonton’s LRT network. In line with the City Plan, it is a historic city-building project to bolster Edmonton’s mass transit system by efficiently moving large numbers of people through dense and diverse urban spaces.
That same City Plan makes a deep commitment to trees, noting that by removing an estimated 531 tonnes of pollutants in 2009 alone, “the urban canopy makes a quantifiable contribution to the long-term livability of our city.”
The City Plan pledges that two million net new trees will be added to the stand of Edmonton’s 12.8 million estimated trees, about 380,000 of which are publicly owned, by 2050.
“The direction has come from our Council and our leadership to put all of these programs in place and also to preserve the canopy that we already have in place,” said Butler.
Forestry work along the Valley Line West LRT route is one location in the city where the balancing act of city-building that involves a variety of stakeholders and interests is on display.
“Through it all, there have been the proper professionals, stewards, guiding decisions, and that shows the City’s commitment to preserving trees,” Butler said.
Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows an artist’s conception of the Glenora Stop on Stony Plain Road and 133 Street on the Valley Line West LRT route. Read more from Marigold about trees.