By Trevor Busch
Town council has resolved to take no further action regarding problem cottonwood trees that have been a source of citizen complaint on Taber’s southside.
Heading a delegation to council’s Aug. 17 meeting, Rose and Don Meier presented information regarding a request for council to order the removal of cottonwood poplar trees located in the vicinity of 54th Street and 55th Street, as well as 42nd Avenue and 41st Avenue.
“We would like a ban put on all cottonwood trees,” said Rose Meier. “I would like them off my property, they’re hanging way over. We never get done cleaning the mess up with the neighbour’s trees. We took all ours down, we talked to her, and she says she can’t afford it. But we’re tired of the mess. Our grandaughter and daughter can’t come when cotton’s blowing because of their asthma. You can’t barbecue because cotton’s blowing on your meat. We’re just tired of it, and we want something done.”
In a written letter submitted to the town by Don Meier, he indicated the trees in question are located on properties adjacent to the Meier home on 41st Avenue. Meier expressed concerns over potential damages to his home and yard should one of the trees collapse in a wind storm or other weather event, but his chief issue centered on nuisance “cotton” released by the trees during different periods of the year, citing heath concerns related to asthma as well as other issues such as a plugged air conditioner.
“Is there any way there could be a bylaw put into effect prohibiting these kinds of trees?” questioned Don Meier. “There’s other towns that got it. We’re not the only ones complaining — it’s everyone in the whole neighbourhood.”
In the letter, Meier went on to request council “do something to alleviate these conditions, whether it be creating a bylaw or just ordering these nuisance trees be removed completely. There is no quality of life for us or any other neighbours in the area.”
“You clean one day, the wind comes up, and you’re cleaning again,” said Rose Meier. “And we’ll get big branches in our yard. We’re just tired of it, and this year has been one of the worst years — it just doesn’t quit. This year it’s been just about two months.”
In a subsequent letter submitted by another resident of the area, Frank Smolnicky indicated he “represents a set of homeowners” in immediate proximity to the problem cottonwoods, and that it had become an issue with respect to “health, quality of life, fire hazards, possible damage to air conditioners, plants, and anything else that may suffer from being literally ‘blanketed’ by the so-called cotton released by these trees.”
A petition signed by 14 residents of the area requesting removal of the trees was also included in council’s agenda package, and again cited health and nuisance concerns in relation to cotton released by the trees.
According to administration, the town’s bylaw department had investigated the matter and issued an Order to Comply under Nuisance Bylaw 4-2008 to have tree branches trimmed which are in contact with a neighbouring home, but had not issued any notices to remove cottonwood poplars in the area, as this was not specifically addressed in the existing bylaw.
“As far as cotton coming off of the trees and into the yards, the only thing that would possibly be in the nuisance bylaw, we didn’t think that it was strong enough that we could issue a notice that they had to remove the trees,” said town bylaw officer Brandon Bullock. “We didn’t have the power to do that because of the cotton blowing on to the properties.”
At a later point during the meeting, council addressed the delegation’s concerns and discussed the pros and cons of varying courses of action with regard to the trees.
Coun. Joe Strojwas was in favour of a species-specific bylaw limiting certain trees in the community, but stopped well short of advocating for a wholesale removal program.
“For those of us that suffer from allergies, it doesn’t matter where you go in Taber, there seems to be cotton blowing everywhere. They are irritating, the cotton does blow around, and they are a nuisance. But rather than designing a bylaw to cut down trees — which I don’t believe is in our best interests — I think perhaps we need to create a bylaw to go forward to limit the amount of cottonwood trees that are planted on a go-forward basis. Look around town — there’s a couple thousand of them out there. This could mean millions of dollars once we get into it. Financially and responsibly, this could be a huge headache for us. But I think if we attacked the situation from a positive point and develop a bylaw, it would be wise on our part.”
Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux was also in support of a potential bylaw, but only if it allowed for a grandfather clause concerning currently existing trees.
“I agree with Coun. Strojwas, I think that this has to be forward. And in regards to restricting them, it is only the females that produce cotton. Perhaps we could pass a bylaw to ban those. They’ll still be fast growing and suit your purpose.”
Opposing the idea of a proposed bylaw, Coun. Rick Popadynetz suggested the approach of banning the species was outside the mandate of town council.
“I grew up in this area, 42nd Avenue, there’s a lot of cottonwoods. Cottonwoods grow fast, and they’re great shade. People hate the heat in this community, and in 36 degree (Celsius) weather, to provide shade you need cottons. I really don’t think this is a mandate of council to ban any type of tree.”
While encouraging detente between neighbours in attempting to arrive at a solution to the problem, Coun. Randy Sparks eventually admitted that the trees in this situation are largely a private property issue, and to a large degree outside of the town’s jurisdiction.
“Cottonwoods are an awesome tree, as long as they’re in somebody else’s neighbourhood. This is a nuisance. If these trees were causing this kind of problem to any one of our properties, there’d be problems — big time problems. The first house I bought had three cottonwoods, I felt so bad for my neighbours I cut them down. I appreciate the Meiers coming and making us aware of this. This is very tough for bylaw, and they do their best, but it’s a nuisance. Somehow these individuals that own these trees on their properties should be made to have constant pruning to ensure that as much of this cotton can be dealt with because it’s just not right. This isn’t right what’s happening to these individuals. If it’s on town property, I know what we can do about it. But it’s on private property, so it’s very hard for us to tell someone what they need to do. But I would hope they have enough compassion for their neighbour, and try to do it on their own accord — which obviously isn’t happening.”
Coun. Andrew Prokop suggested that if other municipalities had not felt it necessary to ban this species of tree, this should be a compelling argument against moving to limit their use.
“How do you deal with this effectively? As Councillor Strojwas indicated, there’s thousands in town. We don’t have the resources, the time, or the money to deal with this. To me it’s pretty evidenced by the fact that all of these municipalities don’t have a bylaw for this purpose. So why should we?”
Following discussion, town council ultimately declined to take any action with regard to the nuisance trees, accepting the delegation’s presentation as information. The follow-up motion was passed unanimously.