Uprooted trees, frayed nerves and a massive cleanup: Halifax residents get to work fixing Fiona’s mess

This article was written by Dakshana Bascaramurty and was published in the Globe & Mail on September 28, 2022.

Ian Livingstone rests on a century-old tree that was blown over in Halifax by post-tropical storm Fiona. The tree ‘was like a huge amount of property value, it provided a ton of shade and character to the street,’ he says.

While Ian Livingstone stood on his porch in Halifax’s north end, mourning the centuryold tree out front that posttropical storm Fiona had knocked over Saturday, François Tardif was loading hunks of the tree’s dismembered corpse into the back of his pickup truck.

“It’s hard wood so I know it will burn well,” said Mr. Tardif. Earlier in the day while delivering mail he’d spied this fine specimen – conveniently chainsawed the previous night by city staff into liftable logs – and returned after work to bring it home, just as he had with other discoveries of curbside timber this week. He plans to dry it and use it as firewood.

All that will be left for Mr. Livingstone is a stump.

“Losing the tree is sad,” he said. “It was like a huge amount of property value, it provided a ton of shade and character to the street.”

This tree is one of thousands in Halifax injured or toppled by the weekend’s violent winds. Electricity has returned to most homes here, but cleaning up the tree carnage will be a longer project.

More than 400 trees have already been cleared off streets by city crews since Saturday, but the job is far from over. Countless others – or what remains of them – are strewn across private property and have kept arborists and chainsaw-wielding residents busy for the last four days.

Arborist Peter Mallon used to get 10 to 15 calls a week inquiring about tree removal; on Saturday alone, he received 50.

His Mineville, N.S., company Solid Tree Care has been doing triage – treeage, if you will – since the weekend, reviewing photos that people have sent and trying to prioritize projects by urgency.

His most complex job so far was a tree that had fallen in a customer’s backyard – the back half of the roots were exposed and it was leaning at a 45-degree angle with surrounding trees holding it up.

In a complex process that mixed trigonometry and trapeze arts, Mr. Mallon secured the fallen tree to another that was still standing, then tied his harness rope to the secured tree, climbed the fallen one, then used a third tree as a pole – putting a rope around it and connecting that rope to the tip of the fallen tree.

When he cut the tip of the downed tree, it swung toward the third tree. And then he methodically dismantled the tree in small pieces, reducing its weight.

Rain and wind have persisted since the storm, which has slowed his work.

“One of the main things is visibility, because we’re looking up the whole time. You can’t see because it’s raining on your face. Or I can’t see through my safety glasses because it’s raining and foggy,” he said.

Safety isn’t always front of mind for homeowners who are impatient with trees blocking their driveways or unable to handle the sticker-shock of hiring professionals.

Shawn Gauthier, the owner of Aspen Landscape, a company that has tackled several tree removals since Saturday, said a few people who have called him and received a quote have balked at the price and shared their plan to DIY the removal. He’s cautioned them not to.

Tree removals are expensive for a reason, he says. A small half-hour job can be $500, but a more complex, multiday one can cost $5,000.

There’s the cost of running trucks, the emergency wages paid to staff working weekends and evenings, the fact that it’s dangerous work.

“You’re handling tools that the average person usually wouldn’t love to touch. There’s certainly a risk factor,” he said.

Rob MacNeish would’ve loved to call an arborist to remove the three maple trees in front of his house that had tumbled down in the storm, but he couldn’t – they were on city property so the city’s problem. They’d knocked out the power on their descent and Mr. MacNeish knew service wouldn’t be restored until the trees were gone.

He was especially ticked off because all three had been identified as “problem trees” by an arborist and Mr. MacNeish had flagged them for the city as ones to remove years earlier, predicting that strong winds would eventually take them down.

Because one of the trees knocked down the power mast attached to Mr. MacNeish’s home, rather than the main power line on the street, he was responsible for repair to the mast.

He estimates he and his neighbours will have to shell out $15,000 collectively for power permits from Nova Scotia Power, private electricians and materials in the aftermath of Saturday’s storm.

The city had finally cut down the trees on Monday morning and left the timber on the street, but that night, Mr. MacNeish was still without electricity and slowly losing his mind after hearing his toddler play the same five downloaded Cocomelon episodes over and over again. And so when he heard the rumble of a chainsaw pierce the air at 9:30 p.m., he ran out his front door, a mix of exhausted and enraged, looking for a fight.

He saw a scavenger who’d filled his truck with the chunks of timber that fit and was now trying to cut down a few more pieces.

“I said, ‘ No man, we’re done. We’re tired. You can come back tomorrow. This isn’t going anywhere,’ ” he said. “It’s been a hullabaloo. It’s been stressful. I’m kind of frayed at this point.”

The next afternoon, the only tree debris left on Mr. MacNeish’s curb were clumps of thin, leafy branches. They were clustered at the foot of a splintered tree trunk whose screwed-in municipal “no parking” sign had somehow withstood the storm.

You’re handling tools that the average person usually wouldn’t love to touch. There’s certainly a risk factor. SHAWN GAUTHIER OWNER OF ASPEN LANDSCAPE

Author: Ray Nakano

Ray is a retired, third generation Japanese Canadian born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario along with his 4 younger sisters. He resides in Toronto where he worked for the Ontario Government for 28 years. Ray currently practises in 2 Buddhist traditions: Jodo Shinshu and that of Thich Nhat Hanh. Ray is passionate about climate action and very concerned about our Climate Crisis. He has been actively involved in the ClimateFast group (https://climatefast.ca) for the past 3 years. He works to bring awareness of our Climate Crisis to others. He has created the myclimatechange.home.blog website, for tracking climate-related news articles, reports, and organizations. He is always looking for opportunities through the work of ClimateFast to reach out to communities, politicians, and governments to communicate about our Climate Crisis. He is married and has 2 daughters and 2 grandchildren. He says: “Our world is in dire straits. Doing nothing is not an option. We must do everything we can to create a liveable future for our children, our grandchildren, and all future generations.”

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