Friday, October 10, 2014

Murder on Lilly

City, Community Mourn Death of Beloved Maple Tree
Above: The root system of an 80 year old Bigleaf maple tree in Olympia was cut in April by subcontractors of CenturyLink. The tree was deemed a loss by city staff and cut down in late September. The tree was located on the property of Surgical Associates, on the corner of Ensign and Lilly Road in northeast Olympia near St. Peter's Hospital.
By Janine Unsoeld

A large Bigleaf maple tree was murdered on the corner of Ensign and Lilly in northeast Olympia. Its death is being mourned by city staff and community members who have admired its beauty in all seasons.

The tree was estimated to be eighty years old. Its diameter was estimated to be 71 inches.

The tree was killed by subcontractors of CenturyLink, South Bay Excavating, Inc., who were observed on April 25 digging a deep trench adjacent to the tree, cutting into its root system.The tree was located in the city’s right-of-way at 3610 Ensign Road NE, on the property of Surgical Associates.

Staff at Surgical Associates, puzzled about what was going on, called the city to report the work.

“I came to work and saw them doing something and thought, 'this isn’t right',” said Michael Brooks, an employee at Surgical Associates.

“I only started here in March but I loved that tree. None of us are happy….About two or three weeks later, we found out what happened. I was just mortified….” said Brooks earlier this week.

Above: This picture of the Bigleaf maple was taken September 26.
On September 26, the tree was observed by Little Hollywood to be in the process of being cut down over a period of several hours by Asplundh, a tree maintenance company, which prompted an inquiry to City of Olympia staff.

When first asked about the tree, it was difficult for City of Olympia Urban Forester Michelle Bentley to speak of the loss.
“That large maple tree, the absolutely magnificent tree in front of Surgical Associates, unfortunately, very unfortunately…we were very disturbed about this. CenturyLink was in there this spring, upgrading some of its boxes and underground utility lines. They severely cut the rooting system of that tree, making it extremely prone to wind throw, and it was not safe to have it remain through this winter. It was just a terrible loss…we at the city were all…yeah, unfortunately, the roots were damaged and tree had to come down,” said Bentley.

The Cover-Up and Investigation
City of Olympia senior vegetation specialist Tom Otto says it was the staff of Surgical Associates who first noticed the work being done and reported it.

“By the time we got there, they (the workers) had backfilled it, and prettied it up,” says Otto, a certified arborist and certified tree risk assessor.
“It’s really been a painful process… it’s really tough to appraise a tree like that. The problem was that if the tree failed, the hospital might have to go on an emergency generator, or could impede the entrance to the emergency room,” said Otto. The tree was located near transformers and utilities that serve St. Peter’s Hospital.

On his hazard tree assessment form, Otto noted structural and fine root damage along the south and east sides of the tree, and that root failure would likely lead to whole tree failure. The report includes two pictures depicting the scene. 
“More than 33% of the roots were damaged within the critical root zone and on the upwind side of prevailing wind direction. Ganodrema applinatum fungal conks around base on tree and in cavity opening. Primary power lines feeding hospital; commercial medical buildings, parking lot, major intersection leading to hospital, communication utility junction boxes. Total risk factor of 11 out of 12,” Otto stated in his report dated May 8, 2014.

“Given the extent of the root damage on the upwind side, the trees (sic) structural integrity has likely been significantly compromised. Tree failure could likely cause significant damage to infrastructure, vehicles, and potentially harm people,” Otto also noted.
When asked about the possibility of extraordinary life support measures, such as those in place for trees on the state Capitol Campus, Otto says the city hired a consulting arborist to conduct a separate assessment of the maple. 

“I’m aware of the efforts to save declining trees on the Capitol Campus because of their historical significance however, this tree would likely never receive that kind of consideration. As for the decision to remove, it was a made by several people here at the city and based on my risk assessment,” said Otto.
Adequate Restitution For Crime?

In a restitution letter dated May 30 addressed to Bob Watters, Contract Project Administrator of the Qwest Corporation doing business as CenturyLink, the City of Olympia did not ask for a dollar amount. It cites Olympia Municipal Code, Section 16.60.020 regarding tree protection zones and the definition of removal.
“....The tree damage is a clear violation of the City's code...The only acceptable means of restoration for this damage is to remove the remainder of the tree, grind the stump below grade, and pay for the cost of a replacement tree….The City will purchase and plant a replacement tree after the removal of the damaged tree and stump. This will ensure quality of the nursery stock and planting….” says the city’s restitution letter to CenturyLink.

The city billed CenturyLink for the cost of the labor and materials to replant the tree.

Above: The rings of the Bigleaf maple on the corner of Ensign and Lilly Road in Olympia on October 4. The stump has since been removed.
Attempted Murder: Not The First Time
This is not the first time the City of Olympia has caught CenturyLink in its course of work, said Otto. 

Otto says the city put a stop work order on a project on Martin Way when the company was close to a big pine tree.  In another case, CenturyLink was getting ready to create a trench near a tree but it too was stopped in time.
“We wouldn’t have known about this tree (the Bigleaf maple) if the staff at Surgical Associates hadn’t called us,” said Otto.

Urban Forester Michelle Bentley is busy this time of year due to the urgency of hazard tree situations and development review projects, but is very concerned about CenturyLink's actions.

“I met with Bob Watters yesterday to discuss work they will be doing at a Harrison Avenue location. They are now on board to contact us whenever they install equipment within the city right-of-way adjacent to trees so we can meet on-site and determine the best course of action to protect the trees,” said Bentley in an email to Little Hollywood this morning.

Otto encourages anyone who is seeing work done on a tree and has questions about it to call the city. He also noted that there is no inventory of trees that are in the city’s public right-of-way.

“We have an inventory of trees on city property that are typically downtown and along major arterials. It’s not as comprehensive as it could be….” said Otto.

The city’s Urban Forestry program is located in the City of Olympia's Public Works Department, Water Resources department. For more information, contact Michelle Bentley at or (360) 753-8046.

Above: The view from Surgical Associates will never be the same.