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Heritage maple trees mutilated

Oak Harbor officials are investigating the mutilation of a handful of city-owned trees next to the Kmart complex.

City Administrator Paul Schmidt told the City Council at its last meeting about the unauthorized “trimming” of the maple trees, which were planted nearly 20 years ago as part of a highway beautification project.

Oak Harbor resident, Deb Potter, and Betty Justus, former city resident, were co-chairs of the Heritage Way committee that raised money to help pay for the 200 trees planted along the highway back in 1989. For $198.90, a person could buy a plaque that went on a tree.

“It was a big deal,” Potter said. “It was exciting. We had a lot of people involved in the effort.”

Last week, alert city employees noticed the landscaping contractors hacking away at the trees and stopped them, but not before four trees were basically cut in half. Schmidt said the trees will have to be replaced.

“The owner apologized and said whatever it takes to make it right, we’ll do that,” Schmidt said in an interview.

Schmidt said the landscaping contractor cut back the trees in order to increase the visibility of signs at the shopping center. He said the city is looking into whether a simple miscommunication led to the maple massacre, or whether it was a willful destruction of city property. He said the property owner could face a fine.

The shopping complex is owned by Gamut360 of Everett, according to an official from the property management company, West Coast Commercial Realty. Officials from Gamut360 did not return a phone call for comment.

Potter said she was sad to hear about the trees being harmed. She explained that the community rallied around the tree planting project after the state widened the highway through the city. The planting of maples and flowering cherries was financed by a combination of city and state money, as well as funds raised by the Heritage Way committee. The Seabees helped plant the trees. At the same time, the North Whidbey Lions put in a pocket park on the highway.

The tree planting, Potter said, led to the city being designated as a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation.

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