Changes to naturalized areas around the city are coming after council considered a report in September.
The report, delivered to council on Sept. 16, explores the city’s Boulevard Naturalization Pilot Program that began this year with 13 hectares of land no longer being mowed in three locations: Resources Road, 84 Ave, and 116 Ave. The pilot is intended to last three growing seasons, finishing in the fall of 2025.
“The report, fairly lengthy, touches particularly on the pilot program, but also discusses nationalization as a whole,” said Kase DeVries, city director of parks.
He said since 2018, about 97 hectares (an equivalent of 119 football fields) of land within the city has undergone the naturalization process.
Fire risks were among residents’ concerns about the pilot program at a Sept. 5 council meeting, where they said naturalization could cause a fire risk to private properties.
Council decided at that meeting to mow naturalized areas that are part of the pilot project adjacent to private properties.
The city report on the pilot project consulted with the Grande Prairie Fire Department (GPFD), which confirmed resident concerns.
In the report, GPFD said, “it is prudent to maintain a mowed buffer zone between intentionally naturalized lands and private property”. It also noted this should only be done where “feasible” and where “slope angles do not pose operational safety concerns.”
Council adjusted the pilot project and naturalized areas across the city to follow the GPFD FireSmart principles, which include the areas in the pilot adjacent to private properties to return to pre-pilot mowing rotations.
Mowing will happen between the private properties and the trail, and the rest of the area will remain as part of the pilot project, said Brian Glavin, city chief operating officer.
Another change made by council was to return the south portion of 84 Ave. in the pilot program to its previous mowing rotation.
DeVries said that the 84 Ave. south site has a high potential for voluntary tree growth and could present future challenges with overhead powerlines and a need to preserve boulevard space for snow storage.
“I enhance the word pilot because we’re doing a lot of learning here,” said Coun. Wendy Bosch.
She said city council and staff are learning more about naturalization as the pilot continues.
An additional issue observed was the growth of noxious weeds, particularly at the Resources Road site.
The city used a spray crew to target noxious weeds and hand-pulled other undesirable vegetation, said Devries. Crews visited the sites about three times over the growing period to look for noxious weeds.
A council divided
Councillors are divided on the pilot project.
“When you have company coming to your house, such as visitors to our city, you do the 10-second tidy, and I don’t feel we look very tidy right now, so unless it is, in my opinion, planned with a little more intention, and of course that comes with finances, I think the process we have right now on resources doesn’t sit with me well,” said Bosch.
“I’m okay having ugly sites for a couple of years if it’s getting us something that’s beautiful and cuts off noise going into our neighbourhoods and retains stormwater and does all that good stuff,” said Coun. Dylan Bressey.
Berg said he has heard from residents who want trees in some of these areas because the hills behind their homes are bare, and they hear traffic on the other side.
“We do need to do naturalization with intention to plant some trees,” he said, noting it should come to upcoming budget deliberations. He also said that to reduce the impact on the budget, only one spot a year should be chosen.
Coun. Bosch made an additional motion for city administration to bring back options and budget implications in 2024 to enhance naturalization in the pilot project areas aesthetically.
“If we can do something that shows that we have some foresight to try to fix things, although be it in a pilot program, I think we owe that to the citizens.”
Coun. Wade Pilat said he would like a cost analysis on naturalizing an area compared to mowing it over 10 years.
“I kind of wonder if this is a five-year payback, seven-year payback, 10-year payback, and for me, that’s important because I think we do have to put money on it, but we have to appreciate at some point if we’re going to put upfront capital money there should be operational savings at some point if we’re not mowing seven (to) 10 hours every week on berms that nobody’s ever using for anything other than to drive by look at it,” said Pilat.
Coun. Chris Thiessen reminded councillors that it is still just a pilot project on boulevards.
“We’re offering this simply as a pilot project, and we’re recognizing that some things are working and some things are not working, and we’re going back to the drawing board,” he said.
Brooke Blaikie also presented to council on behalf of the Mission Heights Neighbourhood Association, asking council to reconsider the naturalization of some areas used for recreation.
Council removed the naturalization areas in Mission Heights at Monday’s meeting and directed administration to mow in areas where it was safe to do so.
“The community has made it very clear they would love it to be their place to play,” said Coun. Mike O’Connor.
Blaikie said it’s been three years of appearing before council to remove naturalization from the area to return it to a recreational area.
“I’m really glad that we were heard, and it was a long process but a good learning process,” said Blaikie.
“This is an area (Mission Heights) that, as we’ve seen over the last few years, is beloved by residents,” said Bressey.
He said the situation in Mission Heights is different than other areas in the city where people do not like the aesthetics of naturalization because residents want the area to continue to be used for recreation just as it has in the past.
By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Oct 26, 2023 at 09:03