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Tree removal cost to improve accessibility debated by council

A tree  on Richmond St, in downtown Amherstburg

While the Amherstburg accessibility advisory committee endorsed a barrier-free route of travel along Richmond St., the cost to remove trees that were identified as impediments to that were the cause of debate.

To that end, town council has agreed not to take upwards of $31,000 from the AODA compliance reserve fund and will, instead, take half the cost from that fund with the rest coming from the lifecycle reserve fund.

The trees are along Richmond St. near Bathurst St. and near Dalhousie St. Town council originally passed a motion Jan. 29 directing administration to prepare a tender for sidewalk repairs and to consult with the heritage, environmental, accessibility and economic development committees.

The accessibility committee debated the issue April 10 and their motion regarding funding came before town council in May.

Councillor Don McArthur, a member of the accessibility advisory committee, said that group arrived at the conclusion that half of the funds for the sidewalk repairs come from another source, not just the AODA compliance reserve.

McArthur said the committee “took exception” that the AODA used was going to be used in totality for the repairs. He said the committee felt it was no different than sidewalk repairs in other parts of Amherstburg.

“When we fix these sidewalks, we’re improving those sidewalks for kids, for adults, yes, for people with accessibility concerns but for everyone in this community,” said McArthur. “We’re also lowering the town’s risk in terms of being sued by anyone who trips and fell on those trees.”

The committee “was quite comfortable” covering 50 per cent of the project but the project has benefits to the entire community, said McArthur.

“I think they’ve made a reasonable request and they’ve made it for the right reasons. I think council should honour that request,” he added.

Councillor Diane Pouget said if the matter was AODA related and not simply a maintenance reason, she wondered if public consultation was necessary. Clerk Kevin Fox said if a rest area was being constructed, there would be that obligation. The repair of sidewalks does not require that, he added.

Fox said every survey he has seen identifies downtown sidewalks as an accessibility concern. Pouget said there are “long sections of sidewalk” with no areas to rest, but Fox noted there are rest areas in the areas where the trees are being removed.

With the extra funding going back into the AODA compliance reserve, Fox said items for repair could be looked at such as those identified through facility audits the committee holds.

“There are other projects that could potentially be addressed,” said Fox. “At this time, there are no projects before the town that are not funded. All of the projects that have been identified are fully funded.”

Councillor Linden Crain asked for the balance in the AODA compliance fund, with treasurer Tracy Prince stating that is projected at $109,000. Councillor Molly Allaire wanted to know what the totality of the funds were originally recommended from the AODA fund, with Fox noting it has been used in the past for projects at the Amherstburg Community Hub, the Libro Centre and a new sound system in the council chambers.

In response to a question from Allaire, McArthur said he agreed with the committee that the improvements to the sidewalks would benefit everyone, not just those with disabilities. He said council hasn’t asked if there are other projects to use AODA funding on.

“On this particular front, they are not buying into this,” he said. “The money is just going to keep rolling over so it can be spent on something spectacular that can have a really positive impact on the accessibility community if we can just play ball with them this time around.”

The accessibility committee should have a say on how the AODA compliance funds are used, McArthur believed, adding he didn’t feel it was done this time around. Deputy Mayor Chris Gibb said he was “starting to feel a little uncomfortable” hearing the accessibility committee thinking it was their money or reserve.

“I just want to remind council it is our job to determine where the money is spent,” he said.

Gibb said he supported McArthur’s motion “because it’s valid, but the last few things I heard made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”“The accessibility committee was asked what to do, and in their wisdom, they unanimously said they would prefer to pay half,” said Mayor Michael Prue.

Prue said if people were asked about the downtown and/or open streets, a top concern is accessibility on the sidewalks.

“They are responding to that and maybe we should all respond to that,” he said.

Prue added he attended an economic development committee meeting when it was discussed. He added a tree on the north side near Precision Jewellers is of interest to him, but that tree is not slated to come down.

“It is difficult to circumnavigate these trees,” said Prue.

When he was using a cane due to a broken hip, Prue said it was difficult to get around some trees. He said there wasn’t a lot of space around some trees.

“I love trees with all my heart but it would seem to me the accessibility committee has a duty and an obligation to come forward and try to fix part of that street, whether it be with all of their money or with part of it,” the mayor said.

Pouget said she attended the accessibility committee meeting and agreed with McArthur’s description of that meeting.

“We tell everybody how important our committees are and how we need them to advise them and when they come forward, we question them,” said Pouget.

“I’m going to support this motion 100 per cent.”

Tree removal cost to improve accessibility debated by council

By Ron Giofu

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