Protesters prevent disputed Duncan maple from being cut down

The old maple tree on James Street in Duncan received another last-minute reprieve on Friday, Aug. 5, but its future is still unclear.

The old maple tree on James Street in Duncan received another last-minute reprieve on Friday, Aug. 5, but its future is still unclear.

The controversial tree was scheduled to be taken down at 10 a.m., but with the workers of the tree-cutting company ready to break out the chainsaws, about a dozen people linked arms around it and refused to be moved.

Seairra Courtemanche, one of the leaders of the group, said they are asking for a “stay of execution” of the tree until a public meeting can be held in which both sides of the debate can be properly heard.

She said the meeting should be followed by a vote by the general public on the tree’s future.

“We tried to be heard, but there was no democratic process in the decision to take down this tree,” she said while still linking arms with her colleagues around the tree.

“We want to have a voice in the decision-making process. We are doing this on behalf of the community.”

The tree, estimated to be between 150 and 200 years old, is located next to the Island Saving Centre’s parking lot on James Street.

It was scheduled to taken down in June as part of the centre’s plan to upgrade the parking lot, but people opposed to its demise have been fighting to save it.

The Island Savings Centre Commission decided to postpone the decision to fell the tree until they had a dialogue with those that want it saved and gathered more input into alternatives to cutting it down.

But, after a couple of meetings and receiving a number of reports on costs and tree health, the commission decided on July 26 to move forward with plans to take it down.

John Elzinga, manager of the Island Savings Centre, told the group at the tree that the commission has made its final decision on the issue and there will be no further consultations.

“We are considering legal action at this time,” he said.

Commission member Jon Lefebure said the tree likely won’t be coming down in the next few days.

He said the commission will have to meet to make a decision on whether legal action will be taken, and, because it’s a legal matter, the Cowichan Valley Regional District will have to concur in one of its meetings as well.

The CVRD leases the property from the Municipality of North Cowichan.

As for the request for a public meeting on the tree, Lefebure said a full public process has already been held on the issue.

“Then the commission, made up of duly elected officials, made a decision,” he said.

“That’s how democracy works. I think we had a positive process that made progress, but some chose not to respect that process.”