A side effect of plans by TransLink and the City of Surrey to expand transit in this area could be destruction of a portion of the Green Timbers Urban Forest.
This has not been mentioned in past discussions about the LRT line that is to start at the end of the current SkyTrain line at King George station and head towards Fleetwood, Clayton and possibly Langley City.
A press release issued by the City of Surrey on Tuesday notes a “yes” vote on the proposed 0.5-per-cent congestion improvement sales tax will advance a number of transit and road improvements in Surrey, including “upgrades to and widening of major roads to four travel lanes, including Fraser Highway between 148 Street and City Centre.”
If the road is widened to four lanes and an LRT line (which is at-grade) is constructed there, hundreds of mature trees will be cut down.
Plans to four-lane the road have been made (and fought off) in the past. Other development plans, such as constructing highrises on a portion of the Green Timbers forest north of 100 Avenue near 148 Street, have also been turned down after stiff opposition.
Given that there are no opposing voices to Surrey First on council, it may be difficult to convince the current council to preserve all of the trees in the urban forest.
The original Green Timbers forest was the last large block of old-growth forest left in the Lower Mainland and there was a passionate campaign to preserve it in the 1920s. However, it was eventually logged off, with not a single old-growth tree left. The final trees came down in 1930.
The outcry did lead to one good thing. The provincial government turned much of Green Timbers into a forest reserve, establishing its first major tree nursery there. In addition, much of the logged-off land was replanted in the first major reforestation effort in B.C.
The trees that line Fraser Highway today are among those that were planted during the 1930s and are all about 80 years old.
The tree nursery was active into the 1980s, but before that time Surrey had taken title to most of the Green Timbers reserve through a land swap with the province in the late 1960s. Part of the former forest nursery property is now home to RCMP E Division headquarters.
Surrey had no concrete plans for the land when it took title to it. The northeast portion (which had not been part of the 1930s reforestation efforts) was cleared and council planned to build a sports stadium there in the early 1980s until citizen outcry stopped the plan. That portion is now home to a park and lake.
In 1988, Green Timbers and Sunnyside Acres in South Surrey were, by vote of citizens, dedicated as urban forest parks. Many trails have been developed and both parks remain among the most important parts of Surrey’s forest canopy.
A widened road and LRT line through the forest won’t completely destroy it, but they will do significant visual and ecological damage. Green Timbers should be preserved as an urban forest, as citizens made clear in an overwhelming vote in 1988. That means the cutting of trees should be kept to a minimum.
It makes sense to run an LRT line down Fraser Highway and two lanes of traffic should remain. That would still mean some trees would need to come down. But any plans for four lanes of traffic, in addition to an LRT line, should be firmly resisted by Surrey residents. They expect the city to honour commitments made in 1988, when the property was turned into an urban forest park.
The city needs to fully disclose its plans for Fraser Highway and just how many trees it plans to cut down.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.