PORT ANGELES — A last-ditch effort to delay the removal of the Lions Park sequoia failed to gain traction with the Port Angeles City Council this week.
Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin’s motion to request a moratorium on tree removal died Tuesday for a lack of a second.
“This has been a really difficult decision,” Mayor Sissi Bruch said after an hour-long discussion.
Plans to fell the tree for safety reasons and concerns about property damage remain in place.
City officials have not announced the date on which a contractor will remove the 100-foot redwood from the neighborhood park at 601 E. Whidby Ave.
“Because of recent storm events, the city does not have a time frame to remove the tree at Lions Park,” Parks and Recreation Director Corey Delikat said Wednesday.
“Our hope is to have it down by the end of the year.”
Schromen-Wawrin’s motion to request that staff “develop an ordinance to adopt a moratorium on removal of the sequoia tree in Lions Park until the council has had an opportunity to review the tree removal policy” was based on a new arborist’s report.
Katy Bigelow, a master arborist who climbed the tree for a detailed inspection Dec. 11, determined in a Dec. 13 assessment that tree is in good health.
“The hazard posed by the potential for codominate trunks breaking out can be reduced to a low possibility by installing dynamic cabling and periodic monitoring by the risk managers,” Bigelow said in the 16-page report.
Bigelow’s Level 3 risk assessment was sought and provided to the city by environmental attorney Elizabeth Dunne, part of an ardent group of citizens who oppose the sequoia’s removal.
Supporters of the tree have named it “Hope.”
City officials decided to remove the tree after a multi-year public process that involved a citizen’s subcommittee, 10 public meetings, an in-house arborist’s assessment, a risk assessment from a third-party arborist and a new tree removal policy, City Manager Nathan West has said.
Kevin McFarland of Sound Urban Forestry, the city’s third-party arborist, concluded in a Level 2 risk assessment that dynamic cabling of the two main stems would reduce the risk from high to moderate-high but would “not eliminate the possibility of a failure.”
The two main stems of the sequoia form a weak union that could snap in high winds or by gravity, McFarland said in his January report.
Given the risk of stem failure and root damage to an adjacent driveway, McFarland recommended that the tree be removed.
“I think one of the reasons why the city’s been determined to move forward with this is because of an arborist’s report saying that there’s a high risk,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“We now have a more qualified arborist’s report that is more thorough saying that there’s a low risk and it can be mitigated, it sounds like, by a $500 equipment expense.
“Given that, I don’t see a need to remove the tree from a risk management perspective,” Schromen-Wawrin added.
Twelve speakers testified in support of a moratorium in the first public comment period in a 3 1/2 hour meeting Tuesday. Many lamented the council’s inaction in a second comment period.
Several speakers noted that Hope the sequoia stood tall and protected a bird in the Friday windstorm that knocked down other trees and cut power to all of Clallam County.
“Please don’t be the Grinch who stole Christmas,” tree advocate Jasmine Hunt said.
“Hope is the name given to our sequoia. Now is the time for hope, for joy and for possibility.”
After the first round of public testimony, the council voted 4-3 to add the moratorium to the agenda.
Council members Schromen-Wawrin, Bruch, Mike French and Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter voted to discuss the item while Cherie Kidd, Michael Merideth and Jim Moran voted no.
“This is not an appropriate discussion for us,” Kidd said. “This is a staff decision at this point.”
Later in the meeting, Moran said the city could spend an “inordinate amount of staff time” and obtain 15 more arborist reports.
“I am vehemently opposed to infringing upon the decision-making process of the city manger and the city staff,” Moran said.
French defended the council’s role in the decision.
“There’s been lot of concern about us micromanaging our employee and his staff, but we have a boss, too, and our boss is our constituents,” French said.
“When they come to us to redress their grievances, as is protected in our United States Constitution, we have a duty to listen.”
French suggested that the city Parks, Recreation and Beautification Commission evaluate the competing arborist reports and make a recommendation.
“This isn’t a decision that we would bring for a group of volunteers at our parks commission when it’s about safety of a tree,” Delikat said.
“But who’s the arbiter of fact?” French replied. “We have two different assessments that disagree.”
Bruch said she struggled with her decision about the sequoia, citing Bigelow’s finding that likelihood of codominate trunk failure was possible.
“I would love to think that our sequoia could grow up to be 1,000 years old, but I think that that double leader has doomed it,” Bruch said of the two main trucks.
Bruch added that 1,000-year-old sequoias like those in California’s Sequioa National Park have one main stem.
“I’ve gone around and around on this one because, like I said, I really, truly believe in trees, love trees, I want to plant them everywhere,” Bruch said. “But this one really worries me.”
Dexter said she appreciated Bigelow’s report but had concerns about the long-term maintenance and monitoring of a dynamic cabling system.
West told the council that he had reviewed Bigelow’s report and he, too, had concerns with some of its recommendations.
West questioned whether a dynamic cabling system could withstand the weight of one of the main stems in a trunk failure.
“To me, it isn’t acceptable to have any risk relative to that residential dwelling unit and the residents that live within it,” West said of the neighboring house.
West said the city paid to have an in-house arborist conduct an initial assessment and a third-party arborist to provide a risk assessment.
“I have to concur with council member Moran,” West said. “How many different opinions are we going to get before we bring this to a final conclusion?”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.