Fate of Idylwood trees to be determined by hearings examiner

Residents succeeded in temporarily halting the removal of the remaining 20 trees in the Redmond park.

The fate of around 20 trees slated for removal from Idylwood Beach Park in southeast Redmond was a hot topic at a recent community meeting with around 50 residents in attendance.

While the meeting wasn’t specifically about the removal of large cottonwood trees in the park, many residents took the opportunity to question council members and Mayor John Marchione on the decision to cut down a total of 30 trees. Around 10 smaller trees have already been taken down but the planned removal of three large trees in the northeast corner of the park on March 26 was postponed due to a challenge to the city’s grading and clearing permit.

Marchione said the dispute will go before a hearing examiner in coming weeks, who will decide the fate of the trees. Marchione said the city had obtained the needed grading and clearing permit, a shoreline permit and permission from the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. An environmental review known as a SEPA was additionally conducted.

Marchione said a grading and clearing permit is more robust than a tree removal permit and is required when more than 11 trees will be impacted.

“We exceeded the permit you would have needed on a house,” he said.

However, residents at the meeting said they were unhappy with a perceived lack of transparency, saying the city had not provided the actual permit evaluation documents when requested. They had hired an independent arborist to inspect the trees who they said wouldn’t proceed without receiving permission from the city.

Marchione said since the park is open to the public and the arborist has implicit permission to do an inspection on areas of the park the public has access to. Portions of the park around the trees have been blocked in recent weeks out of concern for public safety.

The tree removals stem from two incidents last summer when large branches fell into the park. In one case a branch smashed a picnic table. In the other, a woman was sent to the hospital in critical condition.

Marchione said the city’s risk department had identified the cottonwoods, which he said are weak wooded trees, as being a danger to public safety. Consequently, the city is obligated to remove them. This sentiment was echoed by council member Hank Margeson. The city would likely be sued if another branch harms park-goers.

“We are doing what we have to do as a city government to protect those that go to the park,” Margeson said. “It’s not something that we want to do.”

While the majority of the city council was at the meeting, the decision to cut the trees is an administrative decision made by the mayor’s office.

One woman in attendance said she welcomed the city’s removal of the trees. She lives next door to the park and said she warns patrons not to stand under the trees due to them being dangerous.

The largest cottonwoods are around 40 years old, Marchione said. Cottonwoods begin suffering from a phenomena known as sudden limb drop after 40 to 50 years and must be removed, Marchione said. The same large limbs that could pose a public health risk also provide a perch for a resident bald eagle that locals have named “Redmond.” Many at the meeting argued removing the trees could harm the eagle’s habitat.

City staff said there was one eagle’s nest in the park, but it was not in one of the cottonwoods slated for removal. Federal eagle protection acts prohibit the destruction or disturbance of eagle nests but says little about perches.

If the hearing examiner rules in favor of the city’s position, the remaining 20 trees will be removed and replaced with 60 trees.