By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — Port of Port Angeles commissioners and the City Council agreed at a joint meeting Monday morning to cut eight city-owned trees in Lincoln Park and voted to sign an agreement for an FAA-funded environmental assessment of the park.
Council votes were 5-1, Councilwoman Sissi Bruch opposing, to cut the trees, and 4-2 in favor of signing the memorandum of agreement.
Bruch and Councilman Lee Whetham opposed the agreement.
“It's a rush to judgment,” Whetham said.
Deputy Mayor Patrick Downie was absent due to a family matter.
Eight trees at Lincoln Park have grown tall enough that the Federal Aviation Administration has restricted night landings on runway 26, the primary east-west runway at William R. Fairchild International Airport.
In 2013, an FAA inspection showed that nine trees and a utility pole were in the essential flight path for nighttime or bad-weather GPS landings.
The FAA gave the port three options to restart night landing operations: remove the eight trees, “top” the trees or add a light at the top of the tree for visibility.
Topping the trees causes them to die slowly, and neither the port nor the city considered the option.
“We could have a viable airport if we light those trees,” Bruch said.
A majority of council members agreed to cut the trees.
Trees that grow into the flight path have been removed every five to seven years on average, with the past removals taking place in 2002 and 2007.
An additional tree and a utility pole on port property also will be removed.
The trees will be removed in six to eight weeks, and the FAA is expected to reopen the runway for nighttime instrument approaches soon after, said Jerry Ludke, airport manager.
The cost of cutting the trees won't be known until the port gets bids, which are expected in two to three weeks, Ludke said.
Port commissioners unanimously voted to sign the memorandum of agreement to allow the FAA and port to conduct an environmental assessment of the park's trees to determine exactly what must be done to ensure the problem-free use of the airport in the future, as well as to address stormwater drainage issues and ecological impacts.
It seeks to determine whether trees need to be removed, and if so, how many and which ones.
The park property was deeded to the city by the federal government in 1904.
Since 1960, use of runway 26 has been shortened from its 6,347 total length to about 5,000 feet because the Douglas fir and cedar trees planted on the formerly clearcut property had grown into the approach path for the runway, Ludke said.
The cost of the study is not yet known, but it is estimated to be about $400,000 and will take 18 months to two years to complete, he said.
A federal grant will pay for 90 percent of the cost of the study, and the port will pay 10 percent.
If the environmental assessment determines that trees must be removed, the sale value of those trees belongs to the federal government by FAA regulation, said Ken O'Hollaren, port executive director.
Because the city actually owns the trees, the port will reimburse the city for the value of the trees in light of the FAA regulation, O'Hollaren said.
The port spent $145,513 to create the Lincoln Park Master Plan to redevelop the property if trees are cut, but many neighbors and city residents who use the park have opposed the plan.
The council adopted the plan in July 2013.
The first phase of the master plan includes $6.7 million in tree removal and the replanting of shorter tree species, which would be paid for by a federal grant and the port.
A second phase includes $7.5 million in new trails, playgrounds and parking areas, as well as rebuilding the clubhouse and restroom, and improved lighting.
Neither port nor city officials have agreed to fund the redevelopment portion of the plan.
The exact number and location of trees proposed to be cut for the plan has not been determined.
“The environmental assessment will identify the boundaries,” City Manager Dan McKeen said.
The assessment will identify a preferred alternative, which will determine if tree removal will be required or how many trees must be removed to resolve the airport approach difficulties, affording to the memorandum.
A preliminary map released by the port during the planning stages for the Lincoln Park Master Plan showed an area the port estimated might be included in an easement for the airport's operation as a large cone emerging from the end of the runway.
“It covers just about all of the park. All of the trees would have to go,” Bruch said.
Corey Delikat, director of parks and recreation, said there are no exact counts for the number of trees in Lincoln Park, but estimates are about 4,000.
Councilman Brad Collins also objected to wording in the agreement that said “all trees” would be removed and asked that the wording be changed to “obstruction trees.”
“I'm concerned that we can't revegetate and replant if we remove all of the trees,” Collins said.
He voted to approve the agreement despite his objection to the memorandum's wording.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.