Home News Putting a number on the tree loss 

Putting a number on the tree loss 

Courtesy Louie John Diabo

The team behind the landmark Multi-Purpose Building project will need to plant nearly 1,200 trees to meet its commitment to Kahnawake after redesigns resulted in the razing of more than twice as many trees as originally planned. 

A total of 593 trees – many of them mature sugar maples – have been cut to accommodate the building’s construction, according to Louie John Diabo, the project manager of the Kahnawake Cultural Arts Center (KCAC). While it was always apparent that a part of the forest would be cleared for the project, the original design necessitated the felling of only 280 trees, which were cut a couple years ago, according to Diabo. 

The project team has promised it will plant at least two trees in the community for every one cut for the construction. In the meantime, the sight of bare land where so many trees used to stand provoked an outpouring of grief, even anger, in the community. 

“I went on site myself and I was like, well, when we fill it up with building the new landscape, it’ll look a lot better, but right now it doesn’t look the best,” acknowledged Diabo, who said mockups help illustrate what community members can expect. 

“We want the community to see that it’s not going to be barren like it looks right now.” 

A series of redesigns to accommodate lower costs and other considerations are to blame for the 313 additional trees that had to be cut, Diabo said. 

While the cost of the building was once anticipated to be $32 million, estimates rose as high as $70 million due to pandemic inflation. This was untenable, and a new architectural firm, Provencher_Roy, won a tender to get costs within a budget of about $56 million, but the design still came back last spring at around $60 million. 

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) insisted on shaving off millions of dollars to get it back under budget, Diabo said. Meanwhile, the project was obligated to spend the $16 million pledged by the federal government by March 31 of this year. 

“Time was ticking for us to be able to come back with a feasible design,” said Diabo. The federal government has since granted a three-month extension. 

A fast-tracked redesign shrunk the building and modified the plans, Diabo said, making use of the natural slope of the land for part of the foundation. The redesign also added an amphitheatre to host shows, mini powwows, and KSS events – maybe even graduation. 

A traffic study for parking and bus flow led to changes as well. 

“All of these components were added to the project and then basically the footprint of the project as we know it became larger. That required us to cut additional trees,” he said.  

At the time, it was believed 159 additional trees would be cut. However, in fall, the Kahnawake Fire Brigade (KFB) said a fire lane would have to be put in around the whole building. 

According to Diabo, the KFB uses different regulations than the architects and builders on the project did when planning for fire safety. In the end, a compromise was struck with a semi-circle. However, this still resulted in the felling of another 154 trees close to Kahnawake Survival School (KSS). 

Trees set aside for transplant – 72 total – are not included in the 593 lost. These will be replanted at a cost of around $1,000 per tree. Because bigger trees are less likely to survive transplantation, these are mostly saplings or smaller trees, according to Diabo. The trees cut will be salvaged for community use. 

In addition to planting efforts, Diabo pointed out the project’s environmental virtues, citing geothermal heating and cooling, local materials, and a storm water treatment system, among other efforts. 

marcus@easterndoor.com 

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter 

This article was originally published in print on March 8 in issue 33.10 of The Eastern Door.

Marcus is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.

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Marcus is an award-winning journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.