PORT ANGELES — A sequoia tree in Port Angeles’ Lions Park that became the focus of intense debate was cut to the ground Thursday morning, prompting the arrest of a 64-year-old Port Angeles woman who allegedly refused to leave the site after the redwood was felled.
It took less than an hour for city workers to cut down the 110-foot tree, named Hope by residents protesting its removal.
City officials said it posed a safety risk and had roots that were damaging nearby property.
“The tree is down, and everyone is safe, and that was our biggest concern,” city Parks and Recreation Director Corey Delikat said Thursday morning.
Bail was set at $1,500 for Devon Gray, 64, who was jailed for investigation of misdemeanor second-degree criminal trespass and obstructing a law enforcement officer, a gross misdemeanor.
Gray, booked into the Clallam County jail at 9:08 a.m., refused to leave the park after it had been closed for the cut-down, Port Angeles Police Sgt. John Powless said. She remained in jail at 5:30 p.m. and was scheduled to appear in Clallam County District Court today.
Told by an officer at the site that she was under arrest, Gray put her hands behind her back, “pulled away from the officer, and had to be guided down to the ground,” Powless said. “She was given several warnings.
“Unfortunately, we had to take her into custody.”
Gray is a member of the Port Angeles Tree Board established in April and has protested removal of trees from Lincoln Park.
Environmental attorney Elizabeth Dunne, also a member of the tree board, said in an email that there were no notices about the park being closed.
Delikat said the 2½-acre, 571 E. Whidby Ave., park will remain closed for the foreseeable future and until after the tree’s trunk and limbs are removed.
“We’ll make sure we have officers there when we go back to clean it up,” he said.
“As far as this situation, it’s been a long 2½ years.
“We made sure we went through a really good process, not just with the park commission but with the [City] Council and the public.”
Once the tree is limbed, Delikat said the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe will be contacted to possibly use the trunk for a city project.
It took city workers about 45 minutes to dispatch the tree by about 8:30 a.m., Delikat said.
Sitkum Tree Service of Port Angeles, hired to cut down the redwood under a $2,100 contract, decided not to do the job “because of the publicity of it all and being called about it,” Delikat said.
It had been scheduled to be cut down Monday, drawing protesters to the site. About 10 people arrived Thursday morning after chain saws had done the deed.
The Port Angeles City Council had been flooded with public testimony in recent months from members of Save Our Sequoia, a group of citizens who tried ardently to protect the tree.
Dunne and others had gathered more than 100 signatures from neighbors and park users who were opposed to tree removal.
City Manager Nathan West has said the decision to cut the sequoia was made after a multi-year public process that involved a citizen’s subcommittee, scores of public meetings, an in-house arborist’s assessment, a risk assessment from a third-party arborist and the development of a tree removal policy.
City Council members agreed last month that tree removal was a staff decision.
After the city hired a tree-removal contractor, Dunne hired master arborist Katy Bigelow to conduct a full-scale, Level 3 risk assessment.
Bigelow, who climbed the tree Dec. 11, concluded in a Dec. 13 report that the tree was in good health and that the city’s concerns about the two main stems breaking off could be addressed by a $500 dynamic cabling system and periodic monitoring.
Bigelow’s report conflicted with a previous Level 2 assessment that found the sequoia to be a high-risk tree.
With the new report in hand, City Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin made a motion at the council’s Dec. 18 meeting to ask staff to delay tree removal to give the council time review the tree removal policy.
The motion died for a lack of a second.
City staff sent an email to the council early Thursday notifying the seven members the tree would be cut, Schromen-Wawrin said.
In a Thursday statement, Dunne said: “I question City Manager Nathan West’s intelligence in not being able to understanding a Level 3 arborist assessment that explained how the sequoia could be managed very safely.”
West said he would not respond to a personal attack, adding that he had confidence in his review of all three arborist assessments.
“Save Our Sequoia offered to adopt and steward the tree at no cost to the city and had put together information on how property repairs could be made without killing the tree,” Dunne continued.
“Secretly cutting down the tree at dawn — with no prior notice to anyone, including the family with young children right next door — shows the city’s disregard for public safety and neighborhood peace.”
West took issue with the notion that the tree was cut in secrecy and with disregard for public safety and neighborhood peace.
“Unfortunately, I find that statement to be inaccurate,” West said.
West said he met with Dunne twice to explain that city’s position on the sequoia had not changed.
“I think it would be difficult to imagine a more transparent process than the 2½ year process that involved the sequoia tree,” West said Thursday.
Christmas ornaments were hung on the sequoia in December and lights in the shape of a peace sign were displayed near its top on New Year’s Eve.
“The sequoia named Hope energized community gatherings at Lions Park,” Dunne said.
“But we won’t be letting the city get away with betraying the community and killing Hope. We’ll be holding it accountable.”
Save Our Sequoia will post updates about its next steps on its Facebook page @lionsparksequoia.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].
Senior staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or a [email protected]