A sequoia tree at the edge of Lions Park in Port Angeles, shown Wednesday, is slated for removal by the city because of safety concerns and property damage caused by its roots. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

A sequoia tree at the edge of Lions Park in Port Angeles, shown Wednesday, is slated for removal by the city because of safety concerns and property damage caused by its roots. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Another arborist says Lions Park sequoia safer than first reported

Port Angeles city manager says removal decision stands

PORT ANGELES — A consulting arborist who climbed the Lions Park sequoia this week said the 110-foot-tall tree is not as dangerous as city officials were told.

City Manager Nathan West said the decision to remove the sequoia for concerns over public safety and property damage stands.

Katy Bigelow, an internationally certified arborist with risk assessment qualifications, said Thursday the city’s concerns about the co-dominate leader stems forming a weak union and breaking off could be mitigated by “noninvasive dynamic cabling.”

“It’s in really good health,” Bigelow said of the sequoia that stands on the western edge of the park at 601 E. Whidby Ave.

City officials have said the decision to remove the tree was made last month after an extensive, multi-year public process.

A third-party arborist determined in a January risk assessment that the sequoia’s large leader stems could snap in high winds or simply by gravity.

Kevin McFarland of Sound Urban Forestry said dynamic cabling would reduce the risk from high to moderate-high but would “not eliminate the possibility of a failure.”

“Taking into consideration the risk determination and damage to the adjacent private property I recommend the tree be removed,” McFarland concluded.

After years of discussions with concerned neighbors, the city hired a local contractor Nov. 27 to remove the tree on an unspecified date before the end of this year.

Sitkum Tree Service will fell the tree at a cost of less than $2,700. The original estimate was $10,000 to $12,000.

Wood from the main trunk will be salvaged for a city project, Mayor Sissi Bruch has said.

“The decision to remove the sequoia tree has been a two-and-a-half-year process that included extensive opportunities for the public to provide comments on the tree removal and matters that surround it,” West said in a Dec. 5 news release.

“But now the process is finished.”

“The city understands the importance this tree has to many of its residents, but recognizes that the risk it poses is far greater than leaving the tree in place,” West added.

When reached by cellphone Thursday, West said he could not speak to the validity of Bigelow’s report because he had not seen it.

He listed numerous steps the city took to find alternatives to tree removal, including the formation of an ad hoc committee and the hiring of a third-party arborist.

West said he decided to delay the planned removal of the sequoia Dec. 2 for the safety of protesters who planned to climb the tree the next morning.

“We have taken so much patience with this process,” West said. “It’s unfortunate that there’s a desire to try to change the decision at the last moment.”

West said he did not know what day the tree would be cut.

Eleven community members gathered at the Port Angeles library Wednesday to discuss and create a preservation plan for the Lions Park sequoia.

Elizabeth Dunne, an environmental attorney, summarized a grassroots effort to save the tree that began in August 2017.

Dunne said she arranged for Bigelow, a Bainbridge Island arborist who was on the city’s list of three potential consultants for the third-party review, to assess the tree Tuesday.

“Despite the fact that the weather was crazy [Tuesday], she climbed the tree and actually did a physical assessment, looking at the union where the two co-dominate leader stems come up,” Dunne said, noting that McFarland did not climb the tree.

“Of course, she said, as Kevin acknowledged, that it’s a very healthy tree.”

Bigelow concluded that the sequoia is “not a high-risk tree” and that the co-dominate leader stems could be cabled to alleviate the safety concerns, Dunne said.

“That will make it safe,” Dunne added.

Bigelow confirmed in a Thursday interview that in her opinion the sequoia could be made safe by cabling.

“The base of the tree is stable,” added Bigelow, who is certified by the International Society of Arboriculture and registered by the American Society of Consulting Arborists.

“It’s a nice looking tree.”

In their last meeting Dec. 4, Port Angeles City Council members said the decision to remove the sequoia rested with staff.

In his Dec. 5 statement, West said there would be no additional meetings devoted to discussions of the sequoia’s removal.

Tree supporters brainstormed ways to save the tree during a two-and-a-half-hour meeting Wednesday.

Potential solutions they identified included a lawsuit, enhanced public education and securing a long-term lease for the land surrounding the sequoia.

City officials have said the roots of the tree have damaged a driveway, waterline and foundation of a nearby house.

Sequoia supporters said the cast iron waterline is simply failing with age and the foundation of the house to the west of the tree is unaffected by the roots.

The owner of another rental property to the north of the sequoia has been the primary advocate for tree removal.

Tyson Minck, a recreational tree climber who has scaled the sequoia, said the homes to the west were moved there after the tree was planted more than 70 years ago.

Minck, who filed a small claim against the city for ecosystem benefits lost from the sequoia’s removal, said little is known about the history of the tree.

“[Sequoias] are planted all over the world with intention,” Minck said.

“This tree was brought here with intention. It’s a pending mystery.”

Minck announced that the Lions Park sequoia had been added to the global register at Giant-sequoia.com.

Click on “Gallery,” “United States” and “Washington giant sequoia.”

“The global neighborhood of people who believe in giant sequoias, or have a fascination with them, have taken interest in this community’s plight with this tree,” Minck said.


Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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