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Angered by removal of oak tree, group gathers at stump
Despite the wind and rain early Saturday, Terry Ann Gallagher went out to the stump of the 330-year-old Garry oak that was cut down last week to pay her respects.
Gallagher tacked to the stump a photograph of the tree she had taken years ago.
“There’s a lot of history with that tree,” Gallagher said. “I’ve been on the island for 16 years. This is first time in a long time I wanted to get out and be pissed at someone.”
Gallagher said she posted the tree cutting on Facebook and the response of her friends was, “What a disgraceful thing to do.”
Under the direction of Mayor Scott Dudley, the city cut the Garry oak down early morning Sunday, March 23, without prior public notice.
A lengthy press release from the city was emailed about the felling at the time the cutting got underway.
The Oak Harbor City Council had known about the plan to cut the tree for months, but the subject was discussed in closed-door sessions because, they subsequently maintained, the city was under the threat of possible litigation.
While limbs falling onto the road below posed some safety concerns in the past, the city was not facing any impending lawsuits, according to city officials.
“We have a city government that has no regard for us,” said North Whidbey resident John Cline, who was among those who gathered at the stump.
High winds and rain drove away the dozens of people who gathered around 11 a.m. Saturday to share stories about the tree and protest the city’s decision to cut it down.
They had intended to continue to gather through the afternoon and then conduct a peaceful march to City Hall at 2 p.m.
While the weather cut the event short to less than an hour, those assembled agreed to refocus their energies into attending the City Council meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday to offer public input.
Coverage of Tuesday’s council meeting will appear in Saturday’s Whidbey News-Times.
Cline, who organized the event, said that he grew up just a few blocks from that Garry oak and had many fond memories of sitting at the base of it, collecting acorns and digging in the dirt.
“That particular tree meant something to me,” Cline said. “That was a significant tree.”
Steve Erickson, of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, said the proper word for the mayor and city council members is “cowards.”
“Even Mayor Dudley is not above the state open meetings act,” Erickson said. “This is an outstanding example of secret government.”
Marianne Edain, also of WEAN, said she wanted to see the city adopt “iron clad” protections on all other oak trees on city property so that this type of cutting does not happen again.
Oak Harbor resident Helen Chatfield-Weeks cried during the gathering and led a chant of “shame, shame, shame.”
“I would say that this mayor will go down in history as the stump mayor,” she said.