Oregon City officials cut down centuries-old trees without permit
Oregon City employees failed to follow their own city code by neglecting to obtain the required permits prior to paying a contractor $7,850 to cut down two large trees — one believed to be 350 years old — next to the Oregon City Swimming Pool, 1211 Jackson St.
Both types of the trees removed by All Around Arbor Tree Service, a white oak and a black walnut, have increasingly rare timber that is especially vauled by carpenters. Oregon City Community Service Director Phil Lewis said that city staff have since corrected their mistake.
"Retraining of staff has occurred and direction has been given to ensure that permits will be filed and obtained prior to future tree-removal activities," Lewis said.
Providing no recommendation for tree removal, recent arborist reports gave options to save the trees while fixing sidewalk cracks related to tree roots. The black walnut tree, estimated to be 160 years old, was deemed in good health and well cared for, but the city did not heed this expert advice, instead relying on its previous experience.
"A similar sidewalk repair occurred in front of the Ermatinger House, with the tree coming down during the next high-wind event," Lewis said.
Ruth Williams, an arborist with Davey Resource Group contracted by the city to assess the tree in July, said the black walnut species generally is tolerant to construction impacts, including cutting roots to rebuild a sidewalk.
"The species is a locally adapted tree that can live for hundreds of years," Williams wrote in the report.
The other tree cut at the swimming pool, a white oak estimated to be 350 years old, was at high risk of limbs breaking and hitting people nearby.
Recommended options included having the tree pruned, the lawn under the tree fenced off or posting signs to explain the benefits of wildlife trees to visitors.
"Even though these measures would reduce risk, the tree would still require routine monitoring, as it will most likely continue to decline," Williams wrote.
Cameron McCredie, chair of the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association, said that MNA members are recommending changes to city code to call for public notification of proposed tree cutting. In a resolution adopted by the neighborhood association on Sept. 5, MNA members pledged to advocate for the development and adoption of a public tree code in Oregon City that provides for "adequate protection" for public trees.
"The bigger issue is the need for an OC Climate Action Plan, which includes recognizing value in developing and preserving a citywide tree canopy," McCredie said. "A tree's value in carbon capture and reducing urban heat should be acknowledged and the protection of large, healthy, public trees pursued with a passion."
According to the Clackamas County Assessor's Office, the Oregon City Swimming Pool's land and building have a market value of around $3.5 million.
In an email to neighborhood representatives, Oregon City planner Pete Walter said OC's Community Development Department will become compliant with municipal code by applying for the tree-removal permit retroactively.
"The permit consists of a Type I Minor Site Plan application for Landscaping Tree Removal (Addendum 4b) for a city-owned site and nonresidential property," Walter wrote.
Lewis stated that the two removed "hazard trees" will be replaced by at least four new trees that will be planted along a new sidewalk, twice as many trees as required by code.
In another case from last month, Walter called for a stop-work order to be issued when neighborhood representatives witnessed unauthorized tree cutting at a site being eyed for a large care home near the intersection of Fifth and Adams streets.
"We have spoken at the counter with prospective applicants who asked about removal of invasive species (e.g. blackberries), which is permitted, but we did not authorize any tree removal," Walter wrote.
Oregon City officials have been reluctant to levy fines against people who illegally cut down trees, although OC code allows for a $303 fine for every tree removed without a permit. There have been numerous cases of property owners removing street trees without permits, and they generally are told to replant them without any monetary penalty paid to the city.
Street trees are on public property, much like public parks. Former state Rep. Ed Lindquist managed to avoid jail time after hiring someone to cut dozens of trees in Waterboard Park so he could have a better view of the Willamette River from his house on the bluff.
In exchange for pleading guilty to criminal mischief in 2016, Lindquist had to complete 80 hours of community service and 18 months of probation, which comes with a $100 bench-probation fee. Lindquist's attorney came to a settlement agreement for $260,000 in damages to the city.
Editor, Clackamas Review/Oregon City News
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