CPRD officials say trees had to be removed for safety considerations

Considering how drastically the removal of most of the trees changed the landscape for blocks around Babe Nicklous Pool Park, it's easy to understand that Newberg residents were still quite surprised by the sight of the suddenly barren parcel even if they knew for months that it had been coming. GARY ALLEN - Excavation work at the future site of CPRD's new aquatic center is underway at Babe Nicklous Park.

When the Chehalem Park and Recreation District removed 20 of the 29 remaining trees in early December, it angered some locals, especially those who had grown attached to the small grove that has been cleared for construction of a new aquatic center.

CPRD announced Dec. 5 that it would cut down most of the remaining trees on the advice of arborists hired to oversee their removal, but complaints to staff and on social media prompted the district to reiterate that by issuing a statement on its website Dec. 21.

"At CPRD, we share the feelings of loss connected with the removal of longstanding trees at Chehalem Aquatic and Fitness Center," the release stated. "The decision to remove them was made with great care and study. We want to share how those decisions were made, and assure all of our patrons and neighbors that safety was our top priority."

According to the release, the planned removal of trees revealed further problems with 20 of the remaining 29 trees, "including disease, insect damage, sap bleed and asymmetrical tops."

"I agree with the decision after seeing some of the trees that came down and basically the rot that was in the trees," Jim McMaster, parks supervisor and pool construction manager, said. "Safety is our primary concern. Homeowners were upset that they were there and we have people upset that we took them down. I do not like to take trees down, personally, but the decision came down to safety."

The 20 trees that were removed were all graded as poor or very poor, according to CPRD, and faced greatly increased exposure to wind. McMaster pointed out that the risk they posed was recently made far too real in Whittier, Calif., where a tree fell on a wedding party last month, killing one person.

"I think the tree in L.A. is a good example," McMaster said. "With the trees in the stage that they were and then the wind being able to hit them because we had taken down so many other trees and hit them harder than before, we just made the decision to do it."

Public information coordinator Kat Ricker said that CPRD was aware of displeasure in the community, both through social media and from staff have reported receiving complaints directly, although no formal complaints have been made to this point.

"It was more conversations with staff that patrons would have throughout the course of their normal days, but we're also aware of social media as the modern water cooler," Ricker said. "We don't respond to things directly in that realm, but we're certainly aware of it. The conversation had gotten heated since the cutting of those final trees, so we felt it was time to try and explain and help people understand exactly how that had occurred."

Among the criticisms levied on social media are claims that CPRD deviated from the its original plan without consulting or notifying the public or was motivated for reasons other than safety, including that CPRD profited on the removal because it sold the resulting timber.

As part of the conditional use permit granted by the Newberg Planning Commission, the final decision on the removal of trees was mandated to be determined by contracted arborists, in part due to concerns voiced by adjacent property owners that limbs or whole trees might fall and cause major damage to their homes.

Ricker said the sale of wood from the second cut was included in the contract to remove the trees, which is a standard option. She noted that most what remained was chipped and spread onto district trails and that some limbs were set aside to create trophies for the annual Camellia Festival run.

Among the nine trees that remain, according to the statement, seven are oak, two are cedar and one is pine.

McMaster added that while the change in the landscape caused by the construction of the new aquatic center has been drastic, when the site is completed, it will also look much different than it does now, in part, because CPRD will plant more trees than they removed.

He said that excavation and grading work on the parking lot and the site of the future aquatic center have begun, so progress is being made on the project.

"We're moving along," McMaster said. "People are excited to see finally there's something being done versus us just talking about it because of the planning part of it. It's good. All our permits are through and we're excited to get this project moving and get it done."

The release added that the CPRD board of directors are available to hear comments from the public at its monthly meetings. The next board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 26.

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