$175,000 penalty for Surrey tree cut

A stop worker order will remain in place at a development at 5904 144 St. until the City of Surrey and Department of Fisheries and Oceans sign off on a remediation plan for the site. - Black Press photo
A stop worker order will remain in place at a development at 5904 144 St. until the City of Surrey and Department of Fisheries and Oceans sign off on a remediation plan for the site.
— image credit: Black Press photo

A local developer is fuming after being slapped with fines and a damage deposit totalling more than $175,000 for cutting down trees in Newton in August.

Paul Bal said the issue has been blown out of proportion in the media, and said if there was damage, it was caused by his subcontractor, JB Demolition.

The city said neither Bal or JB Demolition is accepting blame for the cut, which Surrey General Manager of Planning and Development Jean Lamontagne said went beyond city permits and into protected parkland areas and other private lands.

City staff also said JB Demolition doesn’t have a Surrey business licence, which would be required to do the tree-cutting work.

In August, the city gave permission for Bal to cut down 39 trees on his property at 5904 144 St. to make room for two residential lots. When JB Demolition arrived, those trees were cut down, along with several others in a park, along a riverbed, and on two private properties.

City staff allege that the heavy equipment was delivered to the west side of the property and was driven over a tributary of Hyland Creek to work on the east portion of the land.

Damage to the creek bed caught the immediate attention of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), which launched an investigation. So did the City of Surrey.

Don Luymas, Surrey’s manager of community planning, said it’s not clear who was at fault for the cut, but added for the city’s purposes, it doesn’t matter.

The developer, who is in charge of the project, must take ultimate responsibility for his subtrades, Luymas said.

Bal insists the tree cut was not his fault.

He said the media blew the issue out of proportion, adding he will take a huge financial hit for the mistake.

“I’ve already spent over 10 grand to hire an arbourist and environmentalist and all that,” Bal said, estimating the remedial work in the park land will run into tens of thousands of dollars.

“It’s going to be costly,” Bal said.

In all, the total bill for Bal will be more than $175,000.

The bulk of that (about $150,000) is a security deposit to ensure restoration work in the park is still viable in three years, and the city says a $25,400 fine is for what it believes were 14 trees protected by Surrey’s bylaw taken down on private properties.

Bal said there were only nine trees that came down without permits.

He noted not even the profits from the development are likely to cover the cost of fines and deposits.

“I don’t think so, not at all, zero,” Bal said.

If Bal believes his subcontractor is responsible for the damage, he can seek remedies through legal action.

“If I have no choice, I will,” Bal said. He’s not sure the subcontractor has the financial means to cover the bill.

Bal’s remediation plan has yet to be reviewed and accepted by both the City of Surrey and the DFO.

A stop work order will remain on the property until the city and DFO sign off on the plan.

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