4 PM: We’ve obtained new information today about the investigation of more than 100 trees cut on city-owned Duwamish Head Greenbelt slopes in East Admiral. First report came from The Seattle Times late Friday night; we published a much-commented followup on Saturday (including maps showing exactly where it happened). Today – first weekday since this all came to light, though it happened weeks ago – we contacted the City Attorney’s Office with some questions. City Attorney Pete Holmes had gone out to the site on Saturday and met with City Councilmember Lisa Herbold. Holmes’ spokesperson Kimberly Mills has just sent the replies to our questions, which included, how did the city find out about it, where does the investigation stand, and even, what ARE those metal tags on the stumps for? Mills writes:
A neighbor in the area contacted SDOT arborist Nolan Sundquist in January to alert him to some number of trees being cut.
Early last month a private attorney for two of the area homeowners wrote the Parks Department, seeking a way to, in my words, make things right with the City. We do not know who actually cut the trees or how many homeowners were in the group seeking their services.
That letter was forwarded on Feb. 14 to our Torts Section, which hired a private company to determine what it would take to reforest the area (which is about 1.5 acres (two-thirds SDOT and one third Parks).
(Saturday WSB photo by Christopher Boffoli)
The tags were placed by (the company).
We also asked if there’s an SPD report number for this. Not yet, Mills replied, but says Holmes “has asked that the matter be investigated.” She quotes him as adding, “We’re going to make sure the City is made whole as well as try to deter future conduct,” and calling the area “incredibly fragile.”
Mills notes that “the estimated damages are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is way out of our misdemeanor ballpark. This could be a felony.” If you have information that might help in the investigation, call SPD’s non-emergency number, 206-625-5011.
P.S. If you saw helicopter activity over east West Seattle earlier – it’s related to this, as TV helicopters took their first chance for aerial views of the damage.
ADDED 5 PM: Just out of the WSB inbox:
I am sharing this statement on behalf of a client who, along with other neighbors, hired a landscaping business to top and prune some trees to improve the view from their respective residences. After limited discussions with the contractors, my client returned from an out-of-town trip to find the scene shown in the news reports: To our clients’ surprise and dismay, several trees were cut at or near the base, as opposed to just limited pruning work.
I was retained soon thereafter, with instructions to disclose this work to the City, offer to restore any damage caused by the work, and coordinate full restoration of the site with the City. We hired an experienced urban forester (who used to work with the City on this exact type of site restoration) to advise on an appropriate scope of work to restore the site. We reported the cutting work to the City in a letter dated February 5, 2016. We shared our urban forester’s conceptual restoration proposal with the City Attorney’s office on March 9, 2016, and offered to provide a detailed restoration plan (complete with tree size, species, placement and ongoing care obligations) from our client’s urban forester when the City was ready to review it.
We understand the City is still evaluating its options, as well as what work will be necessary to restore the damage to this site. We believe the work affected far fewer than the 150 trees and the “one acre” of City-owned land that has been cited in the news reports. I believe this is because the City’s current damage assessment for this hillside includes another area of cutting (immediately to the south on the other side of some blackberry bushes) that was not done by our client’s contractors. In any event, our client remains ready, willing, and able to work with the City to restore the area affected by their contractors’ work.
In sum, these neighbors made a mistake by authorizing this work. They have the utmost respect for City Parks and its property, and commit to make every effort to make this right. After discussing this matter in detail with the urban forester they retained, my clients are optimistic that the site can be fully restored.
Clayton P. Graham
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP