Protesters gather at the seqouia tree in Lions Park in Port Angeles on Monday morning. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Protesters gather at the seqouia tree in Lions Park in Port Angeles on Monday morning. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles postpones removal of Lions Park sequoia

UPDATE: City officials have postponed the removal of the Lions Park sequoia.

Port Angeles Mayor Sissi Bruch said Monday she was concerned about the safety of protesters climbing the tree and “misinformation” being spread among tree supporters in emails.

“I didn’t want anybody to get hurt,” Bruch said.

The city awarded a $2,200 contract to Sitkum Tree Service of Port Angeles to remove the tree Monday.

No alternative date for tree removal was set.

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PORT ANGELES — A venerable sequoia tree in Lions Park will be felled Monday because its roots are causing damage and it poses a safety hazard, Port Angeles Parks and Recreation Director Corey Delikat said Friday.

A group of tree advocates gathered Friday at the base of the 110-foot redwood to hang ornaments and post signs that read: “Protect Life” and “Save Our Sequoia.”

“It’s definitely worth saving,” said Lydia Kores of Port Angeles, who named the tree Hope.

“It’s not really necessary for them to kill it.”

City officials say the roots of the non-native sequoia are damaging private property and the co-dominate stems, which form a weak union about halfway up, pose a safety risk for park users.

The city hired Sitkum Tree Service of Port Angeles to cut the tree under a $2,200 contract, Delikat said.

The city will keep the wood and work with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to turn the tree into a totem pole, sign or other city asset, Delikat said.

“Hopefully we’ll do something great for the community with the tree,” Mayor Sissi Bruch said.

For now, the sequoia stands on the western edge of Lions Park at 601 E. Whidby Ave.

Supporters say they will gather at the park beginning at 7 a.m. Monday to protect the sequoia and demand that the city take steps to address climate change, including the protection of large, oxygen-providing trees.

City officials have discussed the fate of the tree for nearly two years, working with neighbors and environmentalists in a search for solutions.

“It really hurts my heart to have to cut this one down, but it’s in the wrong place,” Bruch said in a Friday interview.

Bruch, a self-described “tree person,” said the city should have dealt with the fast-growing sequoia 10 to 20 years ago.

Given the liability for future city residents, Bruch said “it’s not fair that we don’t deal with it today.”

“I do feel really bad the tree is being cut,” Bruch said, adding: “I think it has to be done.”

In a Nov. 20 memo to the council, Delikat said the shallow roots had caused “significant property damage to the driveway, waterline and foundation of a nearby house.”

Margi Normandin, who owns another property near the tree, told the City Council that the roots had made her driveway impassable.

Although the council had previously authorized tree removal, city staff delayed the action to develop a tree-removal policy.

Delikat said the sequoia could not be used as a community Christmas tree because its 66-inch-diameter base is too large to fit into the 18-inch tree hole at the Conrad Dyer Memorial Fountain.

“It is important to the city that the citizens know that we are not in the ‘tree removal’ business, and that tree removal will occur only when warranted,” Delikat said in the Nov. 20 memo.

The city issued a request for bids for tree removal on Tuesday. The estimated cost was $10,000 to $12,000.

Elizabeth Dunne, an environmental attorney and member of the Port Angeles Tree Advisory Council, questioned the “sudden sense of urgency” in cutting the tree.

“We continue to hope that the city will pay attention and recognize that there are cooperative solutions and the tree does not have to be cut down,” Dunne said in a Friday interview at Lions Park.

In a Thursday email to the council, Dunne said the new tree removal policy is inadequate. She argued that the policy was not vetted by the public and should not apply to the sequoia because talks of its demise pre-dated the policy.

Dunne requested a temporary moratorium on removal of the Lions Park sequoia and other landmark or heritage trees in public parks until an adequate public process can be applied.

Arborist Kevin McFarland of Olympia’s Sound Urban Forestry determined in a Jan. 17 risk assessment that the sequoia posed a high risk of danger and should be removed.

The assessment included no timeline for tree removal and acknowledged that the tree is “perfectly healthy right now,” Dunne said.

Other arborists concluded that the Lions Park sequoia poses a low to moderate risk, Dunne said.

“I just want people to know that we’re not arguing to save a tree that is actually hazardous,” Dunne said.

“If we really thought it was dangerous, we wouldn’t be saying that.”

Devon Graywolf of Port Angeles said she had gathered more than 100 signatures on a petition to save the Lions Park sequoia.

Tyson Minck of Port Angeles filed Friday a notice of small claim in Clallam County District Court seeking $5,000 in damages from the city for ecosystem benefits lost as a result of cutting the sequoia.

“The Sequoia tree has provided me and the Port Angeles community with a number of ecosystem benefits, including reducing air pollution, sequestering carbon, improving water quality, decreasing soil erosion, increasing ground water recharge, providing shade and providing valuable wildlife habitat,” Minck wrote in his claim.

“One large tree, such as the sequoia, can supply a day’s supply of oxygen for four people.”

A hearing on Minck’s claim is scheduled for Jan. 17 in District Court.

“The majestic sequoia tree in Lions Park also has great aesthetic and social value and provides a natural playground for both children and adults who visit the park,” Minck added in his claim.

Minck and Dunne said the city’s action violates a section of the tree-removal policy that states “[a]ll reasonable efforts should be made to avoid tree removal.”

“We won’t give up,” Dunne said Friday.

“You don’t lose until you quit.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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