Coastal redwoods considered for removal

The large coastal redwood has cracked the curb and lifted the street, making it a nuisance under city code.

Plans are in motion to take down two coastal redwood trees on the corner of Chestnut Avenue and North G Street.

On this quiet, tucked-away, residential intersection, both road and sidewalk have over time heaved up due to the massive root system under the bigger of the two trees, causing a violation of city code and even threatening the neighboring house’s foundation.

After months of deliberation between the city and several other interested parties, a general consensus seems to have emerged that removal of the trees is the best option – despite some reservations.

“They really don’t want to see the trees come down, but they understand that they’re the wrong trees in that place and they have to be removed,” said Public Works and Development Director Faye Stewart of the discussions.

The issue was formally initiated in September last year by an email from homeowner David Williams, who asked the city for help in dealing with the threat of the large tree to his house, an issue he has been working on with the city for years to explore options, said Stewart.

The tree in question is approximately eight feet in diameter and its smaller counterpart measures about four feet in diameter. The larger of the two has outgrown the small park strip around it, cracking and raising the curb and a portion of North G Street.

The sidewalk next to Williams’ house has lifted a full foot as well, making it a nuisance, as roots have extended into city’s sewer line on Chestnut Avenue and the storm catch basin has stopped functioning correctly.

In Williams’ own home, roots of the tree have compromised the foundation. While recently pouring a new drive approach into property, he learned that the roots had extended across his property, making their growth in excess of 50 feet.

Additionally, Pacific Power pointed out last month that the trees were too close the existing power pole and were violating separation requirements between trees and power lines.

“So we have compromises with the power, our sewer, our street, the sidewalk and our storm system that these trees are impacting,” said Stewart.

A city street tree regulation, too, is being violated, particularly as it concerns endangerment as a nuisance.

Cottage Grove Municipal Code 12.20.070 states that “any tree or shrub planted in a parking strip or any public place, or on private property, which is endangering or which in any way may endanger the security or usefulness of any public street, sewer, or sidewalk, is declared a public nuisance, and the city may remove or trim such tree or may require the property owner to remove or trim any such tree on private property …”

Though the code also allows for the city to give a property owner 30 days to remove a tree after issuing a notice, Stewart said the situation would instead best be resolved through a community partnership.

Stewart reported that Williams had gotten bids for removal that were in excess of $12,000, an unaffordable amount for Williams as a retired individual. The city’s own bids went as low as $7,500, which included the city hauling off the logs and paying for a crane to lower the logs to ground to ensure city utilities were no further damaged.

A neighborhood meeting was held outside under the trees on Saturday, June 5 by Stewart to discuss the issue with area stakeholders.

Around 20 people showed up for the meeting including Mayor Jeff Gowing, Assistant to the City Manager Jake Boone, Urban Forestry Committee member Jimmy Schaper, Executive Director of EcoGeneration David Gardiepy and Forest Web of Cottage Grove’s Executive Director Cristina Hubbard.

Both Gardiepy and Hubbard supported the decision to cut down the trees under conditions.

“These two trees need to come down,” he said. “There’s no ifs, ands, or buts – that tree can’t actually grow anymore without removing the road.”

At the meeting, Gardiepy offered to donate four dawn redwoods to the city for planting under the condition that the two coastal redwoods (also known as California redwoods) are used for local purposes once cut.

Gardiepy recommended either Bohemia Park or the disc golf course for his donations.

“Both locations have water, ample space and resources,” he said.

Part of Gardiepy’s motivation for the donation is his concern for the endangered status of the coastal redwood, known as sequoia sempervirens under its taxonomic nomenclature.

“By taking these down, we have to show responsible stewardship not only of the trees, but of our community,” he said. “And I believe that future generations deserve to see those trees 100 years down the road.”

Hubbard, whose nonprofit is concerned with protecting old growth and promoting healthy forests, also approved of the move to cut down the trees while supporting Gardiepy’s donation.

“This is not a healthy standing forest. This is sitting on a city street and you can see the damage that’s caused if that tree continues to grow,” she said. “It’s the wrong place for this tree. And as much as it grieves us to recommend taking it down … It needs to be done. It’s just not in a safe place.”

Gardiepy added that he and his nonprofit try to view such situations in terms of whole systems, both urban and forest.

“We’re trying to strengthen communities in the face of climate change,” he said. “Climate change and these trees are not going to work. These trees are eventually going to topple over on the house.”

A resident at the neighborhood meeting stated that during the 2019 snowstorm, the amount of tree parts that came down amounted to about a quarter cord of firewood.

In discussing the issue with the Urban Forestry Committee in May, the committee moved that it supported the removal of the trees under the conditions that: the logs would be milled into lumber and used throughout the city for benches and other projects; that two city-approved trees are replanted in the park strip of the redwoods; that the city repair the damaged street and utilities as soon as possible; and that rounds of the stump of the large redwood are cut for use to memorialize the tree and its history.

Removal Process

The removal is planned for early summer as the city continues making plans to work with both Williams and Pacific Power.

Pacific Power is currently exploring the option of using an approved tree contractor to first remove the tree limbs then gradually cut the trees in sections from the top down — at the company’s own expense.

Cottage Grove city staff would work to haul off limbs and the city would pay for a crane to safely lower each section of the tree.

“I was told it would probably be about a three- or four-day process to work through that,” said Stewart. “And then our city crew could go to work immediately on fixing the utility lines, the street, get a new curb gutter poured and do some sort of a stump removal.”

City code also holds landowners responsible for repair of abutting sidewalks, meaning Williams will be responsible for replacing that portion of the damage.

Stewart estimated the cost of that kind of repair to be around $5,000 or $6,000.

While removal is taking place, it is also likely power will be shut off to the area during daytime work hours.

“So we’re going to have to do a good job in coordinating the timing for this that works for everybody,” Stewart said. “We’re also going to have to give lots of public notice ahead of time to expect your power to be out for during the day on these times.”

Though there are not currently any overall cost estimates, it will be paid through the city’s street, storm drainage, water and wastewater funds.

While these plans move forward, not all residents at the neighborhood meeting seemed to agree with the removal, however.

One attendee offered a $1,000 donation to help defer the costs if the trees were left standing.

Another expressed their concern that the removal would increase traffic speed in the area. The residency of the trees has sentimental value to some as well.

Other suggested detriments to the loss of the trees included reduced property value, increased cooling and heating costs for the homeowner, noise increases, less wildlife, more storm water runoff and a general lower quality of health.

Despite the mentioned trade-offs, however, most residents seemed in agreement the trees needed to come down.

Carol Palmer, who lives with Williams, said that in researching the house, she learned it was built in 1903. She suspects that as a Lewis and Clark Exposition came through the state two years later, the two redwoods were planted around that time.

Whatever the true age of the trees, their roots are deep in the neighborhood and their towering presence is hard to miss – though so too are the misshapen public pathways around them.

This topic will appear as an informational item at the June 14 Cottage Grove City Council meeting where testimonies from both EcoGeneration and Forest Web will be submitted.

“The caveat is, neither of our nonprofits agrees with the removal of these trees without the replanting of redwoods,” said Gardiepy.

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