Sault Ste. Marie is undertaking a $280,000 streetscape improvement project for part of Queen Street ravaged by the emerald ash borer beetle.
The work is to begin later this year in the block between Dennis and Bruce Streets, where rows of stately mature ash trees are being eaten alive by larvae of the invasive insect species.
City Council agreed Monday to retain Toronto-based The Planning Partnership to develop an implementation strategy for installation of streetscape furnishings, as well as a tree replacement strategy that will include root trenching so the tree roots can expand without interfering with underground services,
The Planning Partnership has previously worked for the city on a downtown streetscape manual and was also involved in developing the Sault's Canal District neighbourhood plan.
"City staff estimates that in the next two years, the majority of these ash trees will be removed. This will be a huge impact to the character of Queen Street, as the mature trees have created a pleasant streetscape environment," said Stephen Turco of the city's planning department in a report to councillors.
"A variety of tree species will be planted to mitigate the risks of future invasive species," Turco said.
The city has $1.25 million from Fednor and Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. (NOHFC), allocated for Gore Street improvements.
But, as SooToday.com reported last week, a review of underground services on Gore Street recently found they were in very poor shape beneath the roadway and in need of replacement.
That can't happen until 2016, so the city has now reallocated 25 percent of the Gore Street money to the Queen Street tree and furnishings improvements, and another 25 percent for streetscaping on Huron Street, including a welcoming sign or feature near the intersection of Huron and Queen.
When Ward Councillor 3 Matthew Shoemaker commented that Gore Street "can't afford much more suffering," Planning Director Don McConnell responded that his staff had determined that considerable money could be saved by using existing street lighting on Gore Street, which was found to be in good condition.
"At the end of the day, the streetscape on Gore Street will look exactly the same, with the exception that the existing lights will be retained, and the proposed low-level lighting will not be installed," McConnell said.
"The city’s engineering division is tentatively scheduling the full reconstruction of Gore Street for the summer of 2016," Stephen Turco said.
"As a result of this project evolving to a full reconstruction project, there are a number of design, construction and contract administration efficiencies that can be shared between the streetscape initiative and the full road re-build," Turco said.
The total cost of the projects on Gore, Huron and Queen Streets will still come to $1.25 million, he says,
The new streetscape implementation strategy to be developed by The Planning Partnership can be rolled out on other blocks along Queen Street from Gore Street to Pim, as money becomes available.
Once the design work has started, city staff will organize public input sessions for both the public and members of the Downtown Association.
Diversion of the Gore Street funds to the two other projects requires approval from Fednor.
"An amendment to the City’s Nothern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. agreement is not required as staff from NOHFC have indicated that the streetscape funding can be applied to any downtown road project," Turco said.
Earlier SooToday coverage of this story: