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Mayor tries to find a solution to Shoppers Row business owners' complaints over flooding

Following complaints of flooding at a Shoppers Row business, Mayor Walter Jakeway wants city staff to come up with a solution to a problem the city says is not its responsibility.

At a council meeting Dec. 4, Jakeway put forward a motion directing staff to prepare a report on a “physical solution to the issue of city-owned trees and roots along Shoppers Row which are causing damage to utility services private or publicly owned.”

Jakeway’s motion came on the heels of a letter to city council from Tricia Murphy and Michael Murphy complaining that the roots of city-planted trees along Shoppers Row have grown under the building they own in the 900 block of Shoppers Row, pushed the grout out of the sewer line connection and have gotten into the sewer line, causing blockages which lead to flooding.

Jakeway wanted staff to come up with a solution but was unable to find any immediate support from the rest of council.

Coun. Andy Adams said he needed more information before committing to anything.

“I think this warrants some discussion by council as to the ramifications of this motion,” Adams said.

Council agreed and voted in favour of discussing the issue at a future Committee of the Whole meeting. One was scheduled for this Tuesday but was cancelled Friday.

Peter Wipper, city clerk who also serves as the city’s risk and claims manager, said a few weeks ago that council could order city staff to cut the tree roots but that it would be contrary to the practice followed by other municipalities.

“Our Municipal Insurance Association, which represents 160 governments, always denies claims for root intrusion,” Wipper said.

“The BC Building Code reads that all pipe joints in a sewer system be water tight and root intrusion proof. It’s the property owner’s responsibility to maintain the building and all of its parts.”

He added the city has denied all claims it’s received revolving around tree roots getting into a building’s pipes because the onus is on the owner to keep the pipes root intrusion proof.

But the Murphys don’t think that’s fair as in the 20 years they’ve owned the building they never had a problem until the existing trees were established.

“We...ask that the city do something to remove their tree’s roots from under our building before serious damage occurs,” the Murphys wrote in a letter to city council.

“The current situation is intolerable and completely unfair to us and our very patient tenants.”

Ron Neufeld, the city’s general manager of operations, admitted in a downtown street lighting report to council a few weeks ago that tree roots are becoming a problem.

“The sidewalk surfaces are in need of repair or replacement and are being impacted by tree roots,” he said.

“Street roots are impacting not only city infrastructure, but private property as well.”

The trees, known as London planes, were planted along Shoppers Row more than 25 years ago during downtown revitalization work.

“Downtown street trees are part of the urban forest, and the benefits of this significant investment by the community include carbon capture, shade, cooler temperatures and the attractive streetscape,” said Ross Milnthorp, the city’s general manager of arts, recreation and culture last year when the treess were pruned.

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