The Capital Regional District expects to start work soon expanding the E&N Rail Trail from Savory School to Atkins Avenue in Langford, but a local advocacy group worries about what effects the work will have on area trees.
The Atkins Alliance Neighbourhood Group says it is concerned about 200 trees — some Garry oak, broadleaf maple and Douglas fir — set to be cut down for trail expansion.
Beth Cruise, a member of the group and former executive director of the Canadian Earth Institute said the group is made up of neighbours whose homes back on to the E&N Rail and Millstream Creek. She and her neighbours look out at the trees every day.
“There’s a huge biodiversity back there,” Cruise said. “There’s deer… the salmon come up there too and big woodpeckers, ravens, eagles.”
Cruise said removing the trees would harm habitats for various species.
“It would be disturbing a very sensitive ecosystem,” Cruise said.
The group has spoken with the Capital Regional District, sent letters and petitions around and is trying to get the word out about its concerns, Cruise said.
She also noted that group members are not opposed to expanding the trail, they just want to see the trail built without harming the ecosystem.
“Why can’t we have both?” Cruise said. “We can’t come up with a solution where we can have this incredible biodiverse area and have a trail? I would love to have a bike trail… personally, I bike.”
According to the CRD, construction for this portion of the trail is to begin in the spring with tree removal scheduled for February. It will take approximately one year to complete.
It will extend west from the railway crossing at Atkins Avenue to Savory School. The trail will cross the tracks west of Atkins Avenue and continue towards Millstream Creek, where it will cross back to the south of the tracks through a culvert tunnel. From the tunnel, it will continue to Savory School.
A bridge was previously proposed to cross Millstream Creek but the latest plans are to build a tunnel instead due to “increasing clarity on technical, cost and environmental risks associated with the proposed bridge section over Millstream Creek,” according to a CRD bulletin.
“I have to give the CRD credit… they’ve been listening… they changed the trail by putting in this tunnel,” Cruise said.
The CRD bulletin says the culvert tunnel “further mitigates environmental impacts and largely bypasses the designated environmentally sensitive area around Millstream Creek.”
A spokesperson from the CRD said six alignment options for the trail were assessed to “ensure the chosen route minimizes, to the greatest extent possible, the impacts to environmental features.”
The spokesperson said the CRD also worked with an environmental consulting group while planning the trail route to identify things like ecological attributes, wildlife and bird habitats and opportunities to minimize impact.
The CRD was also able to reduce tree loss from 300 to 200 trees which are mainly younger and will be replaced in the area.
Currently, the E&N Rail Trail is 12 km long and will be 17 km when complete. It is being developed in phases as funding becomes available. The Savory School to Atkins Avenue section is Phase Three of trail construction.
The estimated cost of construction for the entire trail is $36,000,000. It will connect downtown Victoria to Esquimalt, View Royal and Langford.