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Press release from Oak Harbor on oak tree
City of Oak Harbor
865SE Barrington Drive
Oak Harbor, WA 98277
PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
7:00 am, Sunday, March 23, 2014
Scott Dudley, Mayor (360) 672-0566
Larry Cort, City Administrator (360) 914-7107
Cathy Rosen, Public Works Director (360) 914-7266
Post Office Oak Tree Removal
Beginning at 7:00 am this morning, Sunday, March 23, 2014, City of Oak Harbor staff and contractors began removing the large and beloved Garry Oak (quercus garryana) next to the Oak Harbor Post Office at the southwest corner of Barrington Drive and City Beach Street.
The work to remove the tree is expected to take most of the day and citizens should expect traffic delays and detours around this intersection. Visitors to the Post Office are encouraged to approach on foot from City Beach Street where they will find a cordoned off path to the front door.
Because of the unique importance of this tree to the Oak Harbor community, City officials are aware that this decision will be questioned by some citizens. The following provides answers to a number of questions. In addition, City officials will be holding a press conference/public Q&A at City Hall at 11:00 this morning to provide further information on this difficult decision.
What has been done to extend the life of the tree?
The first assessment of the tree’s health occurred in 1996 by arborist Robert W. Williams. This report established the likely historical reasons why the tree was showing signs of stress (primarily nearby construction activities and poor pruning practices) and suggested a number of strategies to make the site more conducive to the overall health of the tree.
These recommendations were reiterated in a September 2002 report by Mr. Williams, after which the City removed paving from around the tree. In a follow-up report in October 2002 following pavement removal, Mr. Williams proposed other site changes but also suggested that the risk from the tree will become critical in ten years, even if all measures are taken to reduce that risk.
Following the receipt of a new report in 2004 by Dr. Darlene Southworth, a biologist and plant pathologist, the City implemented a re-design of the area underneath the tree to help extend the tree’s life. Monitoring of tree health has been ongoing since these modifications were made.
Why remove the tree now?
A combination of factors.
First, as part of the City’s ongoing assessment of the tree’s health, Tree Solutions prepared a comprehensive new report on April 13, 2012. While the report acknowledged the benefits of the site work that has been accomplished over the past 10 years, it also assessed the overall risk scenario as High. Risk is based on a combination of the likelihood of tree failure and the extent to which public safety could be compromised if something happened. A key factor in this rating is the tree’s location adjacent to public sidewalks and the heavily used Post Office parking lot.
Second, on May 13, 2013, a 100 pound branch broke off from the tree during a moderate gust, fell 40 feet, and landed on the public sidewalk. On June 7, 2013, a 300 pound branch broke loose during a sustained strong wind, fell over 40 feet, and again landed on the sidewalk (see attached photograph). Fortunately, no one was hurt with either incident but the size of these branches (neither of which had been singled out as potential risks for failure in the Tree Solutions 2012 Report) could have resulted in significant injury and/or damage.
Couldn’t something else be done?
Several options were considered before making the decision to remove the tree.
Pruning – this option was considered and rejected because pruning would remove a large amount of the healthy foliage which helps fight off the disease present in the lower trunk.
Eliminate Access Directly Under Tree – this option was considered and rejected due to the cost of modifying the intersection, the complexities involved in changing the flow of traffic on City Beach Street and Barrington Drive and the recognition that the public would still be exposed to tree or limb fall on private property (Post Office).
Cabling – this option was considered and was judged as a possible strategy to reduce risk to the public from the failure of the larger branches. Unfortunately, the 2013 limb falls were on smaller but still dangerous branches which showed no obvious signs of pending failure and would not have been part of the cabling system. Though there are advanced, non-standard cabling techniques which are not approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), these bear considerably higher costs (estimated at $28-30,000 over the next ten years) than basic cabling systems, are considered by some to be visually unappealing, and do not mitigate against all risk of tree failure.
Continue with Remedial Actions and Wait – this option was by far the most tempting. City officials understand the public’s affection for this natural landmark and in fact share this affection – every official, whether elected or appointed, would prefer to keep this tree around for future generations to enjoy. That said, the City has a duty to the citizens it serves to protect public health and safety and must assess risk as part of its decision-making. These options are further evaluated from a risk management perspective in the attached Memorandum from the City Attorney’s Office.
What exactly is the City’s duty?
One fundamental duty of local government is to exercise “reasonable care” in maintaining streets and public ways (see the attached Memorandum from the City Attorney’s Office). This standard, as applied to the Post Office Garry Oak, translates to gathering information, considering alternatives, assessing the risk to public safety and putting into action a plan to exercise reasonable care. This analysis led to the conclusion that removing the tree was the most responsive way to meet this standard.
Why was the decision made without public comment?
In this instance, much of the information and legal analysis that contributed to the City’s decision to remove the oak tree could not be shared in advance with the community because such information could be harmful to the public’s interest in any case involving a damage or injury claim. Now that the tree is removed, the City is able to speak openly about this information.
Does this decision mean that the City has given up on preserving its namesake Garry Oak population?
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Garry Oaks are protected by the City’s critical areas regulations with very few allowances for removal. One of the allowances, applied in the current situation, is for trees that present “a danger to the public or adjacent property and trimming is inadequate to ameliorate the danger.”
Looking ahead, the City has already planted three new Garry Oaks around the large Post Office oak. These young trees were grown from acorns harvested from the larger tree and in some sense can be viewed as the tree’s offspring. Further, City staff are working actively with students at Oak Harbor High School to seed new trees from acorns harvested from around the community. Once these starts reach optimal size for re-planting, they will be planted in various locations around Oak Harbor for future generations to enjoy. All in all, the City takes its stewardship role very seriously.
1. Memorandum from Weed, Graafstra and Benson to City, March 19, 2014
2. Photograph of June 7, 2013 limb fall