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Summer temperatures bring out crowds for Public Works Week
May 24, 2014
By Kim Zarzour

With all the rain we’ve had lately, today would have been a great day to weed the garden.

It was also a great day to find out how your grow your garden at the Heathy Yards event, part of today’s National Public Works Week open house in Richmond Hill.

About 1,000 visitors collected native plant kits and rain barrels, talked to gardening experts and brought home free wood chips at the annual one-day event, held at the Municipal Operations Centre on Elgin Mills Road East.

Others explored town equipment and trucks and met with town staff to find out how they take care of roads, water, parks, trees, and public buildings.

Chris Chiappetta was eager to bring home his two newly purchased rain barrels that he planned to connect on either side of his Richmond Hill home.

“I like flowers, believe it or not. It’s cheaper than talking to a psychiatrist,” he laughed.

Vladimir and Nadia Zamberg brought home a red maple, four shrubs and wood chips for the garden on their 45-foot lot.

Austin Adams, the town’s natural environment manager, said the town sold 140 tree kits and more than 100 wildflower kits at a subsidized rate to encourage gardening of native plants, which he said are easier to grow, not invasive and promote natural biodiversity.

“It’s encouraging a different type of esthetic, a shift in the mindset from traditional English gardens to something truly Canadian.”

Other visitors spoke with town employees, like Andrew Wills, water wastewater operator, who demonstrated how public works crews switch off the water supply when there are leaks.

“It was a horrible winter,” he said, explaining how staff responded to more than 100 calls for frozen services, thanks to the long stretch of frigid temperatures.

The worst freeze-up occurred on Bathurst Street, near Weldrick, where the lines run underground from one side of Bathurst to the other, he said. A watermain break there caused the entire road to collapse.

Debbi Benvenuti, parking enforcement clerk, fielded questions about where parking is and isn’t allowed on municipal streets.

Few residents realize there is a three-hour a day parking limit, she said, and others aren’t aware they can purchase overnight passes on the spot by accessing the town website.

Visitors were invited to pick up loads of wood chips courtesy of this past winter’s ice storm. Grant Taylor, director of public works operations, pointed to a “huge mountain” of chipped-up tree debris, about 5,000 cubic yards, many perished ash trees that couldn’t withstand the coating of ice.

Most of the chips will be used on municipal parks and open spaces, he said, but the town is also investigating ways to use the chips in biofuel.

Mason Avertick had more important business to attend to at the open house. The three-year-old managed to climb into the driver’s seat and honk the horn of every snow plow, garbage truck, front-end loader and fire engine - twice.

Even a false fire alarm, that required the brief evacuation of the operations centre, didn’t slow down participants in the afternoon’s Greener Home and Garden seminar.

The free educational workshop, a joint production put on by the Region of York, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and the Town of Richmond Hill, continued outdoors, then resumed again indoors, delving into tips and tricks for eco-friendly gardening.

Participants learned how to install rain gardens and permeable patios and ways to make use of the run-off from storms that can cause floods, like that which stranded GO Train passengers last summer.

In nature, most storm run-off is absorbed into the ground, said Cynthia Brown, Healthy Yards stewardship coordinator. But in the city, hard surfaces like road and sidewalks mean up to 55 per cent of the rain goes directly into storm sewers, adding pollution such as gas, pet feces, salt and pesticides to rivers and streams.

She explained how homeowners can manage storm water in creative ways to help save money on water bills and lawn care, reduce strain on municipal infrastructure and future property taxes and add value to homes with enhanced landscape features.

Simply disconnecting the downspout - directing it three metres away from the home with a splash pad, river rocks or even decorative “rain chains” - can be good for the environment and your garden, she said.