Jan 11,2006 - The Now News
Tree cutting leads to penalties, but not fines
By Leneen Robb - Staff Reporter
If a tree falls in Coquitlam, will anyone get fined? Probably not, but they may have to pay for the cost of replanting.
Coquitlam's new committee of the whole - which includes all members of council and deals with issues before they make it onto the regular council agenda - was scheduled to deal with three cases Monday involving tree cutting on private property without a permit.
Julie Bates, who lives on Charter Hill Drive in the Eagle Ridge area, said in an interview she would not have hired a contractor to remove trees in her backyard if she had known she was contravening city bylaws. She said the 10 trees were removed to make way for a new retaining wall and deck.
"I understand, ignorance is no excuse, but we do have a tree in the front and the realtor said 'Don't touch that,'" Bates said. "So I am aware of that tree. I have a right-of-way on my right-hand side, I'm aware of that, but the realtor never mentioned anything (about not cutting trees in the backyard)."
Bates' property backs onto a green belt that includes a section of Scott Creek.
Rhoda Linfoot, who lives on Oneida Drive in the Chineside area, also ran afoul of the city when she hired a contractor to remove nine trees from her front yard.
"Mine are just a few little trees and it wasn't for a view or anything," she said in an interview. "It was just because they were in amongst a few tall cedars and that kind of thing."
Like Bates, she said she would not have had the trees removed if she had known about city bylaws regulating the issue.
Linfoot has even gone door-to-door to collect signatures of neighbours who say they were also unaware that bylaw changes affect tree cutting on private property.
"I have to replant, which is costing hundreds and hundreds of dollars," Linfoot said, adding that she planned to speak to council in the hopes of avoiding a fine on top of those charges.
She said the city should let residents know about the bylaw, by including reminders with letters of assessment or other mailouts.
The owner of the third home, on Adiron Avenue in the Harbour Chines area, could not be reached for comment. According to a city report, a site inspection found that 17 trees "had been felled from a steep-sloped area in the back of the property."
The yard borders a green belt that contains part of Schoolhouse Creek, and a photograph included in the report shows trees littering a stream.
As in the other two cases, the cutting took place within a tree-cutting permit area, but no permit was issued.
City spokesperson Therese Mickelson said that new fines came into effect last year, which allow the city to charge those who cut trees without a permit $750 (discounted to $500 if paid within 30 days). There are also fines for unlawful cutting - up to $150 per tree - and for "wilful damage."
Mickelson said two bylaw tickets have been issued in relation to tree cutting since the bylaws were changed, but added that a fine is usually the city's last resort.
"As with all of our bylaws, we always strive for compliance, because that's obviously the preferred outcome, more so than the fine," she said.
"If we know someone clearly knew about the bylaw and they knowingly and deliberately went against the bylaw, then a fine would be in place, but in cases where you can clearly see that they didn't necessarily know about the bylaw, and are - even more importantly - willing to work with the city to make reparation and to be in compliance, that has far greater value than the fine itself."
published on 01/11/2006