EVERETT — Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson has halted the city’s plan to remove up to 90 trees from Legion Memorial Park.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department had been considering removing most of the trees from the park, many of which were being crowded, showed signs of disease, or were otherwise nearing the end of their lifespan.
That plan angered many residents across the city, however, who spoke to the City Council, organized a campaign and a “Save the Legion Park Trees” Facebook community, and sent what Stephanson estimated was a couple dozen “emails, snail mails, calls” from people seeking to stop the culling.
Stephanson said he also walked the site to see firsthand what the city parks staff was advocating, and spent what he said was a “few sleepless nights thinking about it.”
“I decided at about 3 o’clock this morning to bring a halt to this,” Stephanson said. “None of the trees will be removed.”
The tree removal program was to have started this fall, at the same time work crews from the state Department of Ecology were planning to replace up to a foot and a half of topsoil contaminated from the old Everett Smelter.
The smelter contaminated much of north Everett with arsenic, lead, cadmium and other metals, which were first detected in 1990. The funding is being provided by a bankruptcy settlement with Asarco, the former owner of the smelter site.
The cleanup of the park will continue, but the work crews will dig around the shallow root clusters by hand and use compressed air to clean them of contaminants.
The geography of the park is such that the topsoil is compacted, forcing many of the tree root balls to spread out close to the surface. Some of the trees are clearly sick or have been stunted by having been planted too close together.
Stephanson said it is possible that some trees might not survive the soil replacement process.
“Through the cleanup process we may lose some trees in the future, but in my view, it’s a risk we’re taking,” he said.
One of those grateful for the mayor’s decision was Sandy Schumacher, a former Everett resident who has long served on the board of the Everett Arboretum and Gardens, and who has helped organize many residents and neighbors to save the trees.
“I wish I could just hug him,” Schumacher said.
She had often given tours to people from all over the Puget Sound region who admired the stately lindens, beeches, cedars and maples in the park, some of which were planted by the arboretum’s founders.
“We knew the mayor had been there that day,” Schumacher said. “We were hopeful that he would see that 90 out of 105 trees should not die. They should die in their own time.”
Stephanson said this also is an opportunity to review the city’s 21-year-old tree removal ordinance, and ensure that future plans follow a process that is transparent to the public.
“It’s reassuring to see how much they value our parks and the environment in the parks,” Stephanson said.