Removal of trees will keep float planes safe near new Fort McMurray art installation

Removal of trees will keep float planes safe near new Fort McMurray art installation

As many as two dozen trees will be removed or relocated from downtown Fort McMurray to ensure that float planes and a two-storey piece of public art can safely co-exist.

The decision by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo comes after the potential aviation hazard posed by the piece of art, to be built near the Snye River, was raised in April by the operator of the Fort McMurray Water Aerodrome.

"We negotiated to mitigate all the dangers," said aerodrome operator Paul Hunt. "We came to an agreement."

Before construction begins on the $375,000 art piece, called Reflections on the River, the municipality will remove 24  trees in order to clear a flight path for planes landing and taking off from the nearby aerodrome.

Two planes are based at the aerodrome, which uses the Snye as a runway, but others fly in and out for repairs.

Hunt raised the concern in April when he learned the municipality would construct a 23-foot monument this summer on a berm at the end of the aerodrome's flight path. He threatened to resign as aerodrome operator if changes weren't made.

"As operator of the aerodrome, I have to be cognizant of safety," Hunt said. "If the trees are moved, there's enough room for an art piece and a safe aerodrome."

The city has agreed to remove the trees to reduce the potential hazard.

A briefing note to council from the municipality's public works department said: "Although the likelihood of such an event is minimal, a mutually agreeable solution was reached that addresses the aerodrome operators concerns regarding the safety of those that may use the Aerodrome, while continuing with the development of the public art project." 

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The public works department estimates it will cost $6,500 to remove and relocate the trees.

With the Athabasca and Snye rivers as a backdrop, the sculpture features a person paddling a canoe on top of a curved piece of steel. Construction is expected to be completed in the fall.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca