Citizens gasped and yelled in stunned outrage Monday night after the Brookings City Council voted 3-1 to cut down 35 trees behind the bandshell in Azalea Park, a decision made after arborists, azalea experts and others submitted recommendations over the past two years.

Councilor Dennis Triglia cast the dissenting vote; Councilor Brent Hodges was absent.

The council compromised by taking the middle road on three options before them — the others were to fell 60 or eight trees — many of which pose safety hazards, are diseased or are not pleasing to the eye.

The decision did not sit well with the standing-room-only crowd in city hall.

Some citizens indicated the council was overreacting.

“Unbelievable!” “Why don’t you just chop them all down!” “This is just a repeat of Lundeen!” they shouted as they departed.

The city is now soliciting for proposals for the work.

Pandora’s box

The 38 trees the city had cut down along Lundeen Lane instigated the issue two years ago.

A tree fell over in the park during a storm in 2015 and Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative expressed concern about the nearby high-voltage wires that run along that road. When the trees were cut, most were found to have conk, a common disease in Douglas fir as they reach the end of their lifespans.

That discovery prompted city officials to examine trees in other areas, and eventually the entire park. An azalea expert was summoned to evaluate how the trees shade the flowers and possibly affect their health. An arborist came here to discuss the health of the trees and make recommendations: Fell, trim, prune; remove, save.

The trees to be removed, all behind the bandstand, feature one or more problems: conk, co-dominant trunks, split and asymmetrical tops, a history of limb failure and large dead branches, according to arborist Brian French, who submitted a report recommending the immediate removal of eight trees.

And when the decision was made to cut 60-some trees this spring, a petition on social media brought the project to a halt two days before work was to begin.

City councilors agreed that the top priorities in removing the trees are safety of those who use the park, the finances involved and the aesthetics of the park. Citizens urged them to cut the eight that are sick and maintain and monitor the remainder.

If all 60 were cut at once, Western Pacific Tree Service said it would exchange the value of the wood for the work. If fewer trees were cut, the market value of the trees decreases, and the cost to the city would increase, to a range of $11,000 to $23,000.

Mayor Jake Pieper said the decision should be based on what’s best for the park, not money or politics.

“We’ve dropped $20,000 for a facade improvement project — for one business,” he said. “We can fund it. It’s not about the money.”

Citizens, who addressed the council for more than an hour, argued that the trees contribute to the aesthetics of the park, that the city didn’t receive the required three bids for work and that it hasn’t worked with nonprofits, notably the newly-reformed Azalea Park Foundation (AZP).

“There has been no cooperation so far,” said David Paoli of the foundation. “It’d be nice if the city would live up to its promise (in a Memorandum of Understanding) and include us in discussion.”

The issue has been discussed in town hall meetings, workshops, the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and six times before the council itself. Councilmembers and staff have given tours of the park, marked the trees proposed to be cut and distributed maps. And two of the three companies solicited for the work declined to take it on.

Many spoke of the beauty of the old Douglas firs.

“The parks are better off because the trees energize the community,” said Teresa Lawson of Brookings. “In (arborist Brian) French’s report, he said overall, the stand is healthy and vigorous. The removal should be stopped immediately. This is an irreversible decision.”

Councilor Roger Thompson noted that, while French conducted a visual inspection of the trees, there were no core samples taken that can better diagnose tree health.

“I thought the trees on Lundeen were pretty healthy, except maybe two,” he said. “And 37 of them had rot inside.”

“This is not a lawn we’re talking about,” said Gina Soltis of Harbor. “The beauty of the bandshell with the trees behind it is irreplaceable.”

Councilor Bill Hamilton cited again the public’s safety, saying, “The eight trees are the most critical (to be removed). Don’t think for one minute the others aren’t threatened and will have to be removed. It’s not that we want 60 trees cut; it’s the safety of the people who walk the park. I never want to sit at this dais and listen to two crying parents: ‘Why did you let the tree fall on my kid, when you couldn have taken it out?’”

“I’m concerned it took a public petition and public outcry to make this happen,” said Keith Schmitz. “I’m sad 35 will be cut down because one fell in a storm.”

He also derided comments made by some council members that people didn’t show up for some workshops and tours.

“We came out in force to tell you what we wanted,” Soltis said. “We thought you heard us. We thought we told you. Please, please … don’t take any more trees from Azalea Park.”

Pieper noted that, in most situations, proponents of a proposal don’t show up at meetings to discuss their opinion.

“They grab me at Ace Hardware and say, ‘Hey, cut down all those trees,’” he said, adding that he is pleased that a “passionate but ignorant” group has since become involved and learned, along with the council, about the issue.

A few proposals — one to refer the issue back to the Parks and Recreation Commission, which hasn’t seen all the new information compiled in the past year; another to cut the 60 and a third to wait until Hodges could be present — all failed.

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