Jon Brown: Aspirational visioning, hard work not enough to protect three dogwoods at Triangle Park from construction

Milwaukie is known fondly as Dogwood City. This year, it was named Oregon's Tree City of the Year. However, once again we have senselessly lost priceless trees to development.

Can we live up to our name? Can we act in such a way as to live up to the honor of Tree City of the Year?COURTESY PHOTO: GOOGLE MAPS - Trees at Milwaukie's Triangle Park are pictured in 2018 prior to their 2021 removal by Guardian Real Estate.

Our city has set bold, visionary goals, including prioritizing trees as part of the 2021 Comprehensive Plan. And our city staff is working hard every day to make Milwaukie more equitable, livable and sustainable.

Unfortunately, aspirational visioning and hard work were not enough to protect the three Centennial dogwoods at Triangle Park from the reality of construction of the new Monroe Apartments. These trees — which were planted to commemorate the city's centennial anniversary — were "mistakenly" removed Oct. 28 due to confusion with site plans.

Concerned citizens have heard that city staff were as surprised as neighborhood residents to see the centennial trees cut down.

Why the surprise? Where was the protective fencing to guard against damage during construction for trees intended for preservation? Who was on site to prevent mistakes? Without adequate oversight, what did city staff expect to happen?

The city has since levied a $1,490 fine against the developer, Guardian Real Estate. A spokesperson for the firm considers the fine "reasonable."

Of course they do. For a multimillion-dollar development, this is not just a slap on the wrist, it's a gentle pat on the wrist. The penalty is laughable and all but condones the action. How will such a small fine act as a deterrent to future bad behavior, by this contractor or by others?

We, the citizens of Milwaukie, should not blithely accept this narrative, nor should we accept losses like these as the cost of doing business. We can't afford to lose trees of any size to preventable error. It's time to come together to actively support and protect our trees.

We can do better. I'm calling for the city to:

• Use the enforcement/restoration fees rate for unpermitted tree removals from the right-of-way as outlined in the city Master Fee Schedule, rather than giving the developer a fee based on a much cheaper rate.

• Demand that the developer replace the removed trees with the largest possible sizes available, not the 2-inch caliper trees specified in the approved landscape plans.

• Require that the developer post a $30,000 performance bond to be released upon confirmation that the trees are in excellent condition five years after the development is complete.

• Mandate arborist supervision of all tree planting at the site.

We deserve more than "mea culpas" and chagrin. And we owe it to ourselves to ask for more from our city and the developers working in it.

Jon Brown is an ISA Board-certified master arborist living in Milwaukie. He is a volunteer on the city's Tree Board and is the co-owner/operator of a small arboriculture firm.

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