The Brookings City Council will decide at its Monday meeting how many hazardous trees will be felled in Azalea Park — a topic that has drawn widespread criticism from the public and has delayed the project by almost a year.
Citizens have cited everything from the beauty of the Douglas firs — particularly the stand behind the bandshell — to the soil conditions around the azaleas they shade as reasons the project shouldn’t move forward.
But City Manager Gary Milliman said city staff recommends the council approve the removal of 60 trees, based on the advice of foresters, arborists, an azalea expert and others.
The council also has the option of limiting the removal to 35 trees — or just eight — and monitoring the others as they age.
The majority of the 60 trees cited for removal have split trunks, deadwood, broken tops, issues with their crowns and conk — an often-deadly disease found in older trees. Others are growing in high-traffic areas or where they could damage property if they fall.
Western Pacific Tree Service proposed last May to remove the 60 trees at no cost to the city, as they would harvest the wood, valued at about $21,000. If they remove 35 trees and leave pruning of the others up to the city, it is estimated to cost the city $11,435.
There is no funding in the 2017-2018 budget for the work, and any money would be taken from the Capital Reserve Fund that is used to match grants for parks projects and maintain a 5 percent “rainy day fund.”
The issue is bound to result in a standing-room-only crowd at the 7 p.m. meeting, as many citizens have stated they believe the city is overreacting to the potential danger of trees or branches falling on people in the park.
But arborists and city officials disagree, noting that they learned how diseased some trees are after a December 2014 storm in which a tree fell near Old County and Lundeen roads. That prompted the removal of the trees along Lundeen Road because they were deemed to be a risk to the high-voltage power lines there.
Thirty-eight trees were removed, and the city then evaluated the condition of all the trees in the popular park, which resulted in the council approving a removal plan last December, Milliman said.
“The initial staff report didn’t list all 60 trees as hazardous,” Milliman said. “What was listed was a combination of ‘hazard trees, trees shading native azaleas and less attractive trees.’ The plan also (identifies) those to be preserved and maintained.”
The city consulted with state foresters, had the trees in question evaluated by two tree service companies, and were ready to call in the chainsaws when the project ground to a halt after a petition generated on social media surfaced calling for the city to reconsider.
Brookings then hired an arborist from Portland to collect more data and create a map and recommendations.
“The Lundeen Road trees and the trees listed in the tree removal work plan are similar in many ways,” Milliman said. “They are closely grown together, have multiple crown issues, co-dominant stems, conk, and are in high-traffic and high wind areas.”
The city still plans to replace the trees that were cut along Lundeen Lane, most likely next spring.