The old maple tree on James Street in Duncan that was scheduled to be cut down this week has been temporarily saved from the chopping block.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District voted on Wednesday to postpone the controversial decision to take the tree down until a “community conversation” over its fate is held on July 11.
The tree, estimated to be hundreds of years old, is located next to the Island Saving Centre’s parking lot on James Street and was scheduled to be taken down on Tuesday, June 28 as part of the centre’s plan to upgrade the parking lot.
But protesters have been gathering at the tree over the last few days to protect it, and one woman, Seairra Courtemanche, chained herself to it on Tuesday as RCMP officers tried unsuccessfully to talk her into letting the workers do their jobs.
Jon Lefebure, chairman of the CVRD, said the board of directors felt it was important to talk to the community about the maple tree and what it means to residents.
He said that although work on the parking lot redesign will start in other areas, the CVRD has decided that work will not be done in the area of the tree until the community conversation is held.
“As elected officials representing the community, the board aspires to be responsive and proactive in engaging our community on important matters,” he said.
“We recognize the concerns some residents have regarding the tree. The community conversation will provide an opportunity for both elected officials and residents to sit together and discuss the concerns and facts related to the redesign of the parking lot at the Island Savings Centre.”
The CVRD, which leases the centre’s property from the Municipality of North Cowichan, was considering applying for a court order to have Courtemanche and any other protesters removed from the site for their own safety.
But the regional district decided to have the community gathering instead.
Courtemanche said Thursday morning that the protesters are “grateful” that the CVRD has called for the gathering.
She said she hopes the CVRD will consider redesigning the parking lot improvement project to include the maple tree and surrounding green spaces into a “living historic community monument”.
“We are also concerned that some officials think we do not understand or care about the safety of the public in regards to the tree,” Courtemanche said.
“We need the board to know that we are willing to work together to address these concerns and to manage the ancient maple tree’s life cycle as part of a living historical community monument.”
The gathering will be held at the Island Savings Centre on July 11 at 5:30 p.m.
The event will provide a forum for roundtable discussions with residents to hear their concerns and for staff to provide an overview of the lifecycle of the maple tree, as well as the parking lot improvements.