ONE YEAR LATER: What has, and hasn’t, happened in the West Seattle tree-cutting case

(WSB photos: Above, south section of the illegally cut site, photographed this weekend; below, same area, photographed April 2016)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

One year has now passed since first word of a brazen round of tree-cutting on publicly owned slopes in east Admiral.

On Saturday, March 26, 2016, a stream of visitors made their way to the narrow street ends from which the cut trees could be seen (the photos above are from just north of City View/34th). The night before, The Seattle Times had broken the news, reporting that more than 100 trees had been cut on Parks– and SDOT-owned land, apparently weeks earlier.

Among those who visited the slashed slopes a year ago today were City Attorney Pete Holmes and City Councilmember Lisa Herbold. As noted that day in our first followup, she reported being “assured that criminal and civil sanctions are on the table for the responsible parties.”

No criminal cases so far. But you might recall that midway through the past year – six months after the tree-cutting went public – Holmes announced two civil lawsuits on September 20, 2016. One involved “the northern site” (off 35th SW), naming nearby residents Stanley Harrelson and Mary Harrelson and Martin Riemer and Karrie Riemer, as well as Forrest Bishop and John Russo, who the city alleges “were hired by the Harrelsons and Riemers to cut trees on city property located adjacent and/or across from (theirs).” The second suit involved “the southern site” (off City View), naming nearby residents Kostas Kyrimis and Linda Kyrimis. Both lawsuits also mentioned John/Jane Does whose identities the city had not learned yet.

(March 2017 video by Christopher Boffoli)

Since then, we have continued to watch the online files of both lawsuits, which have tentative trial dates in fall 2017. Two months after the filings, we reported last November on some action in both cases: The Kyrimises had sought a stay, saying they “have good cause to believe that one or more criminal charges are potentially going to be brought against them.” They were granted a partial stay. The Harrelsons and Riemers, meantime, filed documents that acknowledged they hired Bishop and Russo for tree-cutting but specifically not admitting to any involvement in the illegal tree-cutting on the city parcels. The Harrelsons’ lawyer acknowledged that a month before the tree-cutting came to light publicly, they had contacted the city — “on February 5, 2016, the Harrelson Defendants sent a letter to the City advising the City of what had occurred on the Parcels and offering to share a remediation plan the Harrelson Defendants had developed with a former arborist for the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation. …”

Since that report, another four months have gone by; we’ve continued to check the files, and nothing else of note has happened in the cases. No criminal charges, either misdemeanor or felony, either. In preparation for this “one year later” update, we checked directly at week’s end with both offices that would be involved with such filings – the City Attorney’s Office (if misdemeanor) and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (if felony).

KCPAO spokesperson Dan Donohoe said nothing has yet been referred to their office (which would have to happen before prosecutors could prepare felony charges). CAO spokesperson Kimberly Mills told us they have nothing to report yet but affirmed that the investigation is still very much active. So we haven’t heard the end of it, apparently. Stay tuned.

17 Replies to "ONE YEAR LATER: What has, and hasn't, happened in the West Seattle tree-cutting case"

  • Enid March 27, 2017 (6:32 am)

    I’ve said all along that the city would talk tough while delaying as long as possible, hoping that people would forget about this and they could do their usual nothing.  The so-called defenses put forth by these people don’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny.  If charges were ever going to be filed, they would have been before now.  Yet another example of the rich getting away with murder.


  • John March 27, 2017 (7:37 am)


    Time will tell. 

  • Jack Sparra March 27, 2017 (7:55 am)

    Wonder if I hire same guys to drop couple of trees at Lincoln Park so I can see Olympics, do I get away with it as well, or do I need to be Mr. Riemer? Thanks to WSB for keeping this issue alive…really want to know the outcome here!!

    “bring on that horizon..”

  • buttercup March 27, 2017 (8:24 am)

    Where can people call to put pressure on the city to follow through with their original plans of prosecution?

  • j March 27, 2017 (8:49 am)

    Meanwhile the trees on Marine View Dr. between 100th and Roxbury (stairs) continue to be slashed. Most recently a whole section of the hill was completely clear cut bushes and all. 

    Submitted to city with zero response. 

    • Alki Resident March 27, 2017 (8:57 am)

      Those trees were falling into the road causing a hazard. They did us all a favor before a bad landslide caused damage. They did a great job, it looks nice. None of those trees being cut down helped anyone get a view. The houses are above the tree line btw.

      • j March 27, 2017 (4:31 pm)

        “They did us all a favor before a bad landslide caused damage. They did a great job, it looks nice. None of those trees being cut down helped anyone get a view” 

        I’m sure that’s what the residents in east Admiral said too.

        The trees were/are falling into the road because of residents ILLEGALLY topping trees in a manner unhealthy to the tree in order to claim a view. It is illegal to do clearing on city land without permit and it does not look better. It looks way worse. They’re was a tunnel of trees through here and every year more and more is illegally cut.

        Did it look nice last summer when they illegally slashed the trees and threw the branches down with all their dead leaves??? I think not. It looked awful!!

        Cutting trees does not prevent landslides…it causes them. 

        The houses are NOT above the tree line BTW….that’s why they are illegally topping! 

        BTW whether or not a house is above a tree line is not a determining factor to top trees. It is illegal either way BTW

  • flimflam March 27, 2017 (9:14 am)

     over a year to investigate this? public employees in no hurry, as per normal.

  • KT March 27, 2017 (9:23 am)

    “…CAO spokesperson Kimberly Mills told us they have nothing to report yet but affirmed that the investigation is still very much active…”  Oh please, it is illegal cutting of trees not the Kennedy assassination they are “investigating”.  What a joke.    

  • Neighbor March 27, 2017 (9:26 am)

    During the rains these last month there has quite a little stream coming directly from this site. It is getting deeper and the flow is consistently growing as the hill gets more saturated. I callled the city attorney’s office and was basically told that they think the hill is stable. The attorney actually asked if I could go on to the hill and check it out and report back. According to him the city is going by what an arborist told him, not a geotec! I work with arborist all day long and not one of them would ever think to offer an opinion about hillside stability, it’s not their expertise. 

    If we want the one of the main arteries in West Seattle to remain usable and safe I did not get the feeling the city was going to have the same priorities.

    • dsa March 27, 2017 (1:22 pm)

      Good, if water is coming off the hillside when it rains, that is what you want.  The undesirable condition is when it soaks into the ground, saturating it.  Just think about it, okay?

      • John March 27, 2017 (3:26 pm)

        It would be great if someone with expertise in this area were to chime in here, but no, DSA, it’s my understanding that the opposite is true.  The trees drink water like crazy, while streams undercut the roots causing them to destabilize.  Again, no expert here.  This is just what I’ve been told.

  • ktrapp March 27, 2017 (11:20 am)

    This reminds me, any update on the cutting on the other side of Admiral, at the overlook at Sunset Ave and Seattle St.?  I can only recall the initial reporting, then not much after that.

  • lookingforlogic March 27, 2017 (3:59 pm)

    It’s the hypocrisy and entitlement, what they want is grand, what anyone else wants is criminal.  And we’re in a last gasp money grab, because the greeds are terrified we’re running out of goods and they have to increase their net value, sell high and go hide.

  • Marc March 27, 2017 (7:11 pm)

    The stumps tell the tale that this is just another round of the same bad cutting. 
    The point is not that the trees can ‘take it’, but that this bad practice has been the norm.
    Equally concerning to me is the city not taking the initiative and seeking a conviction even if they settle for extensive remediation of the slope and eventual culling of the varietals that will continue to be a problem for the forseeable future. 
    In short, fix this for good, and make those who benefit (caused the concern) pay for it.

  • Alan March 29, 2017 (12:50 pm)

    Thank you for continuing to cover this. I am shocked that this is still just in the investigation stage. I hope that “very much active” means that it is more than an open file that they are waiting to close.

    I’m also surprised that there weren’t more comments on this. Maybe everyone else has a higher confidence that the rich are subject to the same enforcement of the law as everyone else. If I had done this, I’m pretty sure that my mailing address would now be one of our fine penal institutions.

    • Canton March 29, 2017 (10:42 pm)

      That’s what happens when the city wants this whole issue delayed and swept under the rug. Mr. Harrelson used to run the second biggest multi-family property management company, Pinnacle. You think the mayor and others have ties? Hmmm…Thank you Wsb, for keeping this issue relevant. With all the other local issues, it’s not getting the attention it deserves.

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