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Downtown street trees to be removed, replaced

downtown trees

Many of the London Plains along 140th Avenue NE and NE 175th Street have to go due to utility wire interference and uplifting sidewalks. The city is beginning its process of deciding which to remove and replace.
Photo by Jeff Switzer/Woodinville Weekly.

trees removed, replaced by Jeff Switzer
Citing damage to sidewalks, constant maintenance to keep power lines free, and liability issues, the City of Woodinville says it will sooner or later have to remove as many as 69 street trees along 140th Avenue NE and NE 175th Street, along the Albertson's and Stock Market Plazas.
   The timeline puts removal at next May, but the process begins in mid-September when the city plans to hire an arborist to evaluate each of the trees and submit a formal report to Woodinville's Tree Board.
   "This isn't something we want to do," said Joel Birchman, public services director. "We're stuck between a rock and a hard place, or a sidewalk and a tree."
   The nine trees north of the BP gas station are far back enough and in a wide enough planting strip to remain, and the city hopes to work around the three evergreens at the 7-11 store.
   Birchman says the board will review the report and make a recommendation. At the same time, the city will be putting together a design team for the streetscape improvements, which will integrate suggestions from businesses and the public at a November workshop.
   Molly Beck, a certified consulting arborist and Tree Board member, said the London Plains have been planted all over and are causing problems to other cities besides Woodinville.
   "They're widely thought of as a hearty urban tree, able to survive in poor soils and pollution," she said. "But they were planted without consideration of the effects."
   When planted during the King County days, the trees were 15 to 17 feet tall and placed under utility wires with the potential to reach heights of 60 to 80 feet.
   Beck says she remembers when some of the trees were being planted on NE 175th Street. "I asked [the men planting the trees] if they knew that the trees could grow as tall as 80 feet, and they said, 'Lady, we don't pick the trees, we just plant what we're told to.'"
   When the city begins looking at the alternatives, Beck says a number of courses of action can be taken, including retention, replacement, and novel engineering approaches to the problems. "But in some cases there is no choice. Where utility wires are concerned, it's unfortunate that the wrong tree was chosen," she said.
   In the summer of 1993, three months after incorporation, a pedestrian was crossing the street from 7-11 to Seafirst Bank when, after being distracted by a loud vehicle, she tripped over a raised section of sidewalk caused by the roots of the trees, falling and breaking her hip. That claim has yet to be settled with the city and remains open.
   Since then, the city has installed concrete ramps to prevent pedestrian hazards, though the surface remains uneven and the city's insurance has instructed the city to replace the sidewalks.
   Similarly, the power and telephone companies need to continually prune the branches of the trees, which extend out over many of the lines.
   Birchman says he hopes the project can be completed "before they go to leaf," so the effect isn't as dramatic.
   Beck favors a phased-in approach to the process, removing and replacing only the trees under utility lines and those uplifting sidewalks during Phase I. The trees not under wires and not yet causing sidewalk problems could be retained for now and have interplantings to lessen the effect when they are removed.
   "A combination of removal, replacement, and retention would probably be best," she said, "but if it takes more studying, public comment, study sessions, and work with engineers, I think that's positive."