By Chris Winters Herald Writer
EVERETT — A city plan to remove trees from Legion Memorial Park has stirred up concerns from neighbors.
There are more than 100 trees in the park, many of them decades old. But an announcement that as many as 90 of them might be removed is a bit too much to bear for some people.
One of them is Linda Staab, who lives across the street and has a clear view of some of the stately lindens and maples at the park’s southern end.
She found out at the end of June when a parks official knocked on her door and handed her a map showing trees the city was planning to remove.
“We were just horrified when he gave us this map,” Staab said.
While she didn’t dispute the notion that some of the trees are diseased and need to come out, she still doubts the need to take so many, and conversations with city staff haven’t given her a satisfactory answer.
“My original question still stands, why so many trees?” Staab said.
One possible answer points to the convoluted history of the park.
The park is located on the site of the former Everett Smelter, which closed in 1912. Over the years, parcels from the smelter were sold off to eventually become the site of the park, the golf course, the Evergreen Arboretum and the neighborhoods surrounding them.
The legacy of the smelter still persists, however, in the form of arsenic and lead contamination of the soil and groundwater. Starting in 1990, the state Department of Ecology started a lengthy cleanup process, working with Asarco, the inheritor of the interests of the former smelter.
Asarco filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005, and a settlement with Asarco’s new parent company, Grupo Mexico, provided settlement money to clean numerous properties in the state.
Of the total $188 million settlement, $44 million was earmarked for the Everett Smelter site.
That will pay to remove up to one-and-a-half feet of contaminated topsoil from the park and arboretum and replace it with clean dirt, closing from October 1 to the end of May 2015.
In addition, Ecology will be cleaning the yards of about 19 private properties in the area this fall, said Meg Bommarito, the project manager for the cleanup.
The extended park closure provided an opening for the city to remove the trees and plant about 150 new ones.
That project will be paid for by the city.
John Petersen, the assistant director of planning, project development and maintenance for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said the new trees probably will cost $30,000 to $40,000. The removal process may cost a bit more than that, depending on the final number of trees to be removed, their location and size.
The number, he said, has not been finalized, but that it could be up to 90.
The parks department’s web page says 90 trees will be removed, 15 will be spared, and 154 mixed conifers and deciduous trees will be planted in their place.
“The trees we keep will be trees of quality and sustainability even after we do the work,” Petersen said.
On a walkthrough of the park Friday, Geoff Larsen, one of the city’s arborists, pointed out some of the problems: one of the lindens near the parking lot has dead branches and a lot of seed pods, a sign of a tree under a lot of stress.
“We’re looking at all of them, but that one stands out more than others,” Larsen said.
Some trees are obviously dying: a gnarled cherry tree with multiple bare branches and signs of a bad graft job a few decades ago, birch trees with split and twisted trunks, a pine tree leaning at a significant angle, trunk cracks and other signs of possible internal rot.
One large linden that was cut down earlier in the year was revealed to have had a rotten core.
Pointing to a nearby healthy linden, Larsen said, “It looked like that one, but it was dying.”
There may be many reasons why so many trees are sick. For one, the soil in the park is compacted, giving the trees shallow root clusters. In places, such as the row of six sequoias along Alverson Boulevard, the trees are so close together that they are impeding their own growth. In other cases, trees were improperly pruned or topped in the past, allowing rot to set in.
And some species, such as cherry trees and birches, are just not known to be hardy to begin with, Larsen said.
Then there are the stately beeches, which seem to be in good condition, with large canopies and smooth trunks, one example of the type of tree the city wants to preserve.
The city is drawing up a list of possible replacement species: firs like blue atlas cedar and giant sequoia, deciduous trees with fall colors, such as maples, sweetgums and ginkgos. It even may add some flowering trees, such as crabapple and Japanese snowbells.
The city has outlined its tree removal plan at meetings of the City Council, Parks Commission and Tree Committee, and one meeting of the Northwest Neighborhood Association in May, the latter of which seemed to be the first many neighbors of the park learned of the plan and the possible fate of most of the trees in the park.
“The reason we’ve been using that number is that it is going to be with a lot of trees there, even if it’s only 70 or 80,” City spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.
Another meeting is scheduled for Aug. 26 at Legion Hall that will outline both Ecology’s and the city’s final plan for the park, and also give the public a guided walkthrough of the park to highlight the plan.
“Our hope is that people come and talk to our horticulturists and our parks people who know our trees, they’ll understand why we’re making these decisions,” Pembroke said.
Nonetheless, replacing dozens large mature trees with saplings six to 12 feet high will have a significant visual impact.
Linda Staab and other park neighbors are having a hard time with that.
“This park is very well loved in this neighborhood,” she said. “There’s just no way in my mind that 80 percent of them need to go.”
The state Department of Ecology and Everett Parks and Recreation Department will hold a public meeting Tuesday, Aug. 26, in Legion Hall in Legion Memorial Park to present the final plan for the removal of topsoil and replacement of trees in the park. The meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. and will include a guided walkthrough of the park.