Pedestrians walk down a tree-lined section of East Fifth Street in front of Port Angeles City Hall. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Pedestrians walk down a tree-lined section of East Fifth Street in front of Port Angeles City Hall. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles City Council advised on tree policy

PORT ANGELES — City lawmakers should create a tree advisory board, hire a code enforcement officer and replace every tree removed from the urban canopy, a master arborist recommended.

John Bornsworth, senior urban forester and owner of Peninsula Environmental Group Inc., briefed the Port Angeles City Council on the value of street trees.

He presented the findings of a gap analysis that identified strengths and weaknesses of the city’s tree management and municipal code for street trees.

“Urban and community forests are shared community assets that provide substantial benefits,” Bornsworth told the City Council.

“It’s widely understood in the urban forest and social and scientific communities that urban trees enhance and amplify our human well-being, improve economic vibrancy and improve the environment.”

Tree management became a hot topic when city staff made a controversial decision to remove a 110-foot sequoia from Lions Park before sunrise Jan. 3.

City officials said the tree’s co-dominate main stems posed a safety risk and its roots were causing damage to nearby property.

Tree activists and Lions Park neighbors said the tree they named Hope was a community asset and could have been secured with an inexpensive cabling system.

The Lions Park sequoia was not addressed at the Tuesday meeting.

The gap analysis performed by Peninsula Environmental Group, formerly Peninsula Urban Forestry, found that city code correctly states that trees provide a “wide range of environmental, social, aesthetic and economic benefits.”

Benefits of urban trees include improvements to air and water quality, climate regulation and heat buffering and increased economic potential and vitality, Bornsworth said.

“Preserving and maintaining a healthy urban canopy is a public good,” Bornsworth added.

The gap analysis found that the city’s 2014 tree ordinance is silent on landmark tree regulations, viewshed vegetation and healthy tree removal limits.

“Many cities limit the number of trees a property owner can remove in a single year, not withstanding some sort of development or improvement on their land,” Bornsworth said.

Bornsworth said a new Port Angeles resident felled about 15 large, healthy trees from his property north of Peninsula College within a six-month period about three years ago.

Bornsworth monitored real estate websites and found the cutting reduced the man’s property value by about $40,000 and also reduced the value of surrounding properties.

“These trees were between 50 and 100 years old, and they’re all now gone,” Bornsworth said.

“There are many treeless properties in Port Angeles to purchase, and now there’s one more.”

Peninsula Environmental Group preforms natural resource and urban forest planning for municipalities in Washington and Oregon.

Its gap analysis noted that Port Angeles lacks an official tree board to help protect and maintain the urban canopy.

A tree advisory council that was formed in April 2018 is no longer active.

Bornsworth made three following recommendations to the Port Angeles City Council.

They are:

• Appoint a tree board to work on urban forestry issues.

“Trees are not the only issue,” Bornsworth told the council.

“We understand there’s a lot of issues going that need to be addressed. Delegate that responsibility.”

“I think that that is the first step in the right direction towards a healthy, sustainable forest.”

• Hire a code compliance officer and educate the public on the pitfalls of topping trees along city streets and sidewalks.

Topped trees significantly raise the risk of tree failure and property damage, reduce property values, create a negative public perception and decrease neighborhood character, according to Bornsworth’s side presentation.

“I know it felt like this spring was a rash of trees being topped all over the city,” Mayor Sissi Bruch said.

The city has been without a code compliance officer since a round of budget cuts in 2012.

It lost its only arborist on staff when former Associate Planner Scott Johns retired 2016.

The City Council has been discussing ways to re-institute code compliance program.

“Use this compliance to fund and plant more trees, more street trees,” Bornsworth advised.

• When a tree is removed for development, safety or other reason, replace it with another tree.

“Don’t just have a net loss there,” Bornsworth said.

“Proactively do something about that.”

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

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