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Published on Friday, March 10, 2006

Council may try to save giant oak

By Angela Blackburn, Oakville Beaver

Oakville Town Council wants legal advice before deciding whether to ask Halton Region to rethink the configuration of the widening of Bronte Road -- at the cost of potentially losing the majestic 240-year-old white oak tree that overlooks Halton Regional Headquarters on Bronte Road.

Ward 4 Councillors Renee Sandelowsky and Allan Elgar are asking for Town council's backing in the form of a notice of motion filed at Monday's Town council meeting.

They heard council needs legal advice before proceeding, hopefully at the next council meeting.

Mayor Ann Mulvale cautioned time may be a factor in such an action and noted Elgar was on a regional committee that dealt with the issue.

However the Ward 4 councillors don't believe regional council may have had all the information it needed when making its decision.

Last week, Halton Regional Chair Joyce Savoline expressed annoyance about what she dubbed "misinformation" going out to the public on the tree issue.

She was referring to public awareness being created through Elgar's Web site, which is shared by his Ward 4 colleague, about the tree and the potential for its loss -- something that has stirred the hearts of many residents.

While Savoline maintains a decision has yet to be made on the tree's future, Elgar and Sandelowsky believe choices have already been made that will seal the tree's fate.

Savoline noted Elgar was on a committee that studied the Environmental Assessment Study (ESA) on which regional council based its decision on the road widening.

Back in 2002, regional council voted to follow the ESA recommendations that said the preferred road widening option in front of the regional headquarters was to widen to the east for road safety and least disturbance to residents and the environment on the creek side of Bronte Road.

It means the road would not go around the tree, which was another study option, but through where the tree stands.

"I understand that Regional Council made a decision in the fall of 2002 regarding the widening of Bronte Road. This decision will result in the removal or relocation of the historic white oak tree. It is clear from that decision that the tree will not remain where it is today," said Sandelowsky.

Elgar also claims not all the information was seen by that committee.

Elgar said the ESA reported it's unknown if widening the road around the tree would enable the tree to survive and that's what his committee saw, along with regional council.

However, an arbourist's report stated that the tree's survival rate was estimated to be 90 per cent whether the road was built around the tree, or the tree moved.

A U.S. firm was contacted to investigate how much moving the tree would cost and the price tag was estimated at about $500,000.

According to the regional council vote, while the preferred road widening would call for removal of the tree, it was left open for a future decision on whether the tree would be cut down or moved.

The $500,000 cost to move the tree could be spent on moving it, or on reforestation.

According to Savoline that vote on the tree's future has yet to take place.

At this point, Elgar and Sandelowsky believe there's also discrepancy of opinion as to the life expectancy of the tree.

Some reports state the tree is nearing the end of its life expectancy, others are of the opinion the tree could live for a good long time.

There is also discrepancy in opinion about the tree's health. Some say the tree is dying, others say it's healthy. The arbourist's report indicated the tree was healthy.

Savoline said last week that updated information from an arbourist will be needed before a decision is made.

"My concern, and Allan's, too, because he seconded the motion, is that we feel (regional) council may not have reviewed all the information available when they made their decision," said Sandelowsky, noting there appears to have been contradictory information.

"Council never saw the arbourist's report that says there is a 90 per cent chance of the tree surviving indefinitely if the road is widened around the tree. It appears that council did not have all the information in front of them before they rejected the option of widening the road around the tree. That's why we would like the regional council to reopen this section of the environmental assessment so that the "widen around the tree option" can be re-examined by Council," said Sandelowsky.

Elgar, through his Web site at, has made available the various reports in question and the lengthy history of the tree -- which includes successful attempts by its then owner George Atkins, an Order of Canada recipient who grew up on the site to preserve the tree.

In the early 1970s, the Ontario government committed to make every effort to ensure the tree's safety and provided that promise in a legal document to Atkins related to public utility construction.

Hydro wires run around the tree.

More recently, Halton Region ran its water line to Milton under the tree.

Regional officials, from the realty department to Savoline, have stated preserving the tree was a top priority.

Other documentation has been sought including information on heritage trees and opinions from the Ontario Urban Forest Council.

However though a decision has not yet been made on whether to transplant the tree, the local Ward 4 councillors believe the road widening option that doesn't go around the tree will ultimately seal its fate.

They also believe that it will all be based on a decision that the tree wouldn't survive, when in fact, the arbourist's report Elgar said wasn't seen by the committee, states its chances are better than good.

Elgar and Sandelowsky want the tree saved in its place and Elgar said he believes it will stand a better chance of survival being built around than being moved.

The councillors have provided information on the Web site and called on residents to write to local officials.

Now, the pair are calling on Oakville council's support to re-open the decision on where to widen the road in front of regional headquarters -- and the ESA dealing with that section of it.

Elgar also said he'll be taking his call to re-open the roadway widening options decision back to the regional council table, too.

Oakville council may push Halton to save giant tree
WORTH SAVING? Oakville Town council may ask Halton Region to rethink its decision not to build the Bronte Road widening around this giant oak tree.
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