Sequoia mourned at council meeting

PORT ANGELES — Ten speakers lamented the felling of the Lions Park sequoia this week in the first City Council meeting since the tree was cut.

They decried Tuesday the controversial decision to cut the 42-year-old redwood on the morning of Jan. 3, a day not announced beforehand.

Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said the city failed the “don’t-make-little-kids-cry test for good government,” referring to two girls, 5 and 3 years old, who live near the park and cried when a city crew cut the 110-foot conifer before 8 a.m.

“I don’t understand what the exigent circumstances were that warranted just weird process,” Schromen-Wawrin said near the end of a five-hour council meeting.

The decision to cut the tree was made after a 2½-year public process that involved a citizen’s subcommittee, public meetings, multiple arborist reports and the development of a tree removal policy, City Manager Nathan West has said.

He defended the in-house decision to cut the tree for public safety reasons and property damage concerns.

“I will say that I am very sorry that people feel that they were either hurt or had pain, or that they had disappointment in city staff based on the decision that was made,” West said in his report to the council.

“But know, too, that I believe strongly that it was the right decision for the long term and the best interest of Port Angeles. It’s a decision that I stand by.”

Most of the speakers who testified about the tree were affiliated with Save Our Sequoia, a grassroots group of park users and others who tried to protect the tree they named Hope.

City officials said the sequoia’s co-dominate stems formed a weak union and posed a safety risk, and that its shallow roots were damaging a nearby driveway. Sound Urban Forestry arborist Kevin McFarland concluded in a January 2018 report that the sequoia was a “high risk” tree and should be removed.

Elizabeth Dunne of Save Our Sequoia obtained a report Dec. 13 from master arborist Katy Bigelow, who concluded that the tree was in good health and could be made safe by a $500 dynamic cabling system and periodic monitoring.

“Save our Sequoia offered to adopt the tree and steward it at no cost to the city in accordance with the tree management plan recommended by one of the best arborists in the state,” said Dunne, an environmental attorney, in the first of two public comment periods.

“There was no logical reason to cut it down. So what we’re left with looks very much like a reactionary power play.”

Tree removal was delayed in 2018 to allow the Parks and Recreation Department to develop a tree removal policy.

The parks department estimated tree removal would cost between $10,000 and $12,000. The city awarded a $2,200 contract to Sitkum Tree Service of Port Angeles, which backed out of the job in December amid the public controversy, according to the city.

A planned tree removal Dec. 3 was canceled out of concern for the safety of protesters. No subsequent date for the falling was announced.

“Know that for the city, this was not an easy decision,” West said after most of the audience had left the meeting.

“It shouldn’t be taken lightly that we just went and carelessly made a decision. We did not. We were diligent about reviewing every study that was put before us. And I think it’s important that the community know that we do care.”

City officials provided a summary of the events that preceded tree removal in a Dec. 5 news release. Go to www.tinyurl.com/PDN-sequoia.

Peninsula Urban Forestry President John Bornsworth also documented the story of the sequoia in Jan. 8 post — “An Expert’s Findings and Review of Poor City Planning” — at www. peninsulaurbanforestry.com.

Schromen-Wawrin made a motion to delay tree removal at the Dec. 18 council meeting based on Bigelow’s Level 3 risk assessment. The motion died for a lack of a second.

Tree supporters alleged that the city cut the tree to improve mountain views from a rental property owned by Margi Normandin of Sequim, a claim disputed by the city.

The lower main trunk of the sequoia remained at Lions Park on Thursday.

“I was working on a eulogy, but the corpse of my beloved is still outside,” said Devon Gray of Save Our Sequoia, addressing West.

“You made your point, Nathan. You came in my neighborhood, you destroyed the tree and you left the corpse.”

City officials have said the wood from the sequoia would possibly be used in project with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. Parks and Recreation Director Corey Delikat said Wednesday no decisions about the wood had been made.

Gray, 64, was arrested at the sequoia shortly after it was cut for allegedly refusing to leave a closed Lions Park.

A video of the arrest was posted to YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch? v=dlOSLYXvWy4.

Gray pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor counts of second-degree criminal trespass and obstructing a law enforcement officer and awaits a Feb. 12 hearing in Clallam County District Court.

“Her charges should be dropped immediately,” said Tyson Minck of Save Our Sequoia.

“They are disrespectful to her activism, to her career as an activist.”

Gray has protested the removal of trees in Lincoln Park, the city’s past practice of putting fluoride in the drinking water and the Iraq war. She championed the 2018 installation of suicide barriers on the Eighth Street bridges, Minck said.

“She is a long-time advocate of peace in our community,” Minck said.

Minck said there were no closed signs at Lions Park on the morning of Jan. 3. He alleged that “gloating” members of the crew that cut the tree did not allow the community to mourn.

“You make $149,000, Mr. Nathan West,” Minck said.

“Cutting of a landmark tree in our community for one home owner’s view is not economic development. It is a community travesty. Your lack of respect for the community, who proposed positive solutions, is a stain on the grass of Lions Park.”

West addressed the public comments several hours later in his report to the council.

“I think it’s important that council and members of the public know that staff greatly care about the opinions expressed, and that very much every opinion in this community matters to us,” West said.

West acknowledged that the decision to cut the sequoia was made under “difficult circumstances.”

“Now we have a major task before us, and that is demonstrating through action that we have a tree ethic for this community,” West said.

“And obviously, that’s a big task ahead of us, but that’s something that we’re going to have to tackle.”

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

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