Tree plan demands pushback

It’s the nature of government that, like an overzealous barber, it tackles a job and then some.

That’s the gut reaction to the city of Everett’s plan to remove 90 trees from Legion Memorial Park in north Everett (90 out of 100 — like leaving the last drop of milk in the carton. Technically, you didn’t finish it.) The Everett Tree Massacre isn’t a Machiavellian plot — new trees will be planted — but it raises questions on parks and city administration that merit scrutiny.

The pretext for the tree-removal plan is the cleanup associated with the Asarco smelter, which operated from 1894 to 1912 and contaminated most of northeast Everett with lead, arsenic, cadmium and other metals. The last Asarco parcels were sold for housing development in 1936, but contamination wasn’t detected and reported to the Department of Ecology until 1990.

When Asarco went bankrupt a settlement was reached that includes $44 million for Everett. In addition to private properties, the clean-up extends to Legion Park and the arboretum, although the vast majority of the targeted trees are in the park, which coincidentally has the fewest advocates.

As The Herald’s Chris Winters’ reports, the cleanup involves removing up to one-and-a-half feet of contaminated topsoil and replacing it with clean dirt. The project presents an opening for the city to deal with many of the park’s ailing trees. But 90? As park neighbor Linda Staab said, “My original question still stands, why so many trees?”

Tree removal has zero to do with contamination — it’s a city, not a DOE plan. There is the challenge of compacted soil, which causes shallow root clusters. Six sequoias along Alverson Boulevard, for example, are so close together that they impede their own growth. In other instances, trees were improperly pruned or topped, which facilitated rot.

The following questions need to be addressed: Are non-ailing cherry trees and birches slated to be chopped because they’re not hardy enough? With so many cases of improper pruning and topping, what safeguards are in place to minimize future screw-ups? With a price tag close to $100,000 for removal and planting, is this the best use of department resources, especially with parks in the neglected south end requiring attention? And why doesn’t Everett have a parks committee within the city council like other cities its size?

Attend the public meeting on Aug. 26 in Legion Hall from 6 to 8 p.m. to hear from the city and DOE. Pipe up and be heard.