The Brookings City Council Monday night voted 4-1 to proceed with a plan to cut down 35 trees in Azalea Park, prompting a half-dozen dejected citizens to leave the council chambers in defeat.
Councilor Dennis Triglia cast the dissenting vote.
Western Pacific Tree Service will cut down 35 trees — mostly behind the park bandshell — and prune 14 others for $11,435.
The petition also reads that “removal of a tree must be a last resort after all other options are exhausted.”
The petition had 90 signatures on it, of which 41 were verified to be Brookings residents, said Parks Manager Tony Baron.
The group has also appealed the decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, but the council said they didn’t think tree-cutting is in its jurisdiction.
“We hate to see these trees removed,” said Dave Carlson of Brookings, who also requested the city announce the date when the trees will be felled so a ceremony can be held to honor them first. “We’re very saddened these trees will go.”
Only a handful of citizens pleaded with the council Monday to reconsider — and Triglia was the most vocal.
“This has been the most emotionally-charged issue I have dealt with during my brief two years as a councilor,” he said. “Many hours of meetings of the Parks and Recreation Committee and the city council over a period of years were held regarding tree removal (and) the final result is that, despite overwhelming opposition by the general public the city has chosen to disregard the will of the people this governing body represents.”
He said the decision to cut the 35 trees was a “compromise that was hastily prepared,” that the council nor the public knew which trees were targeted for cutting until this week, and noted that there is no plan to replace these Douglas firs.
He noted that Baron requested a committee be formed in May 2016 to engage the public in the discussion and, even though it was approved, the group was never formed.
“I believe this proposed committee might have, in hindsight, prevented much of the consequential confusion and ill will created with … the public,” Triglia said.
He also cited then-Mayor Ron Hedenskog’s statement the work was imperative to preserving the azaleas, which “only served to obfuscate the public as to whether it was the deteriorating health of the azaleas or the alleged hazards posed by the trees that is the real reason for their removal.”
He now wants to know, considering how much controversy there has been over the issue, how much Western Pacific Tree Service will make by selling the trees.
Mayor Jake Pieper disagreed, saying as a business owner, he wouldn’t be willing to turn over his books to public perusal.
“I doubt they even want to do this job to be honest with you,” he said. “Not with all the controversy about it.”
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A date has not been set for the project to begin.
The company said in a proposal last year it could do the work for free if it were to cut down the initially-proposed 65 trees, as the cost of the work could be offset by the sale of the wood.
The issue brought scores of citizens to council chambers last year to protest the proposal.
The issue of hazardous trees came to light after Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative had to have trees felled on Lundeen Lane because they were threatening overhead power lines. When those trees were cut they were found to be in far worse shape with the disease conk than originally thought.
The city then evaluated all the trees in the 36-acre park and, because others were concerned about the health of the historic azaleas there, brought an azalea expert and arborists to town for public meetings to discuss the problems.
The citizens speak
A petition presented to the city council days before the original tree cutting was slated last spring stopped the project.
A second petition was submitted to the city Dec. 29.
“Trees are an essential part of the character and beauty of Azalea Park,” the petition reads. “These trees are very important to our environment, the quality of the air we breathe and the quality of our city’s landscape, and also serve as a natural visual barrier between the sports areas and parking lots.”
The petition alleges too many trees have already been removed in the past two years, and that the council “has decided to ignore” the recommendations of a professional arborist and dozens of residents who spoke against the project.
“His recommendations were to remove six to eight of the trees with defects,” the petition reads. “We agree with the recommendations of the arborist.”