A potential controversy over Bridle Trails State Park was avoided last week when Seattle City Light agreed to drastically reduce the number of trees it would cut down to protect power lines running through the park’s center.
At a June 4 meeting at Ben Franklin Elementary, City Light officials told a gathering of about 75 people it would cut down only 40 of the 720 trees it had marked for removal.
The electric utility had initially ruffled feathers among park visitors and the group that helps manage the park, the Bridle Trails Park Foundation, when it sent out an independent contractor to mark trees that posed a threat of falling on the lines. Acting under what City Light called “old guidelines,” the contractor marked hundreds more trees than necessary.
“It boils down to a mistake with a contractor,” Seattle City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen said by phone before the meeting. “We accidentally had them mark too many trees.”
City Light is required by law to maintain the reliability of its transmission lines, which includes removing any large trees that could fall on the power cables. The 720 number represents the total trees that grow along the easement and could potentially fall and cause damage to the lines. But new standards set by the utility will see it only remove dead or dying trees that could fall in a “significant wind event” or on their own accord, Thomsen said.
Of the 40 that will be cut down, six are already dead, 27 show obvious signs of disease or damage and five appear healthy but are within 15 feet of a tree with obvious signs of “laminated root rot,” a fungus spread through the roots of Douglas firs. An additional 15 trees were marked for close monitoring.
“The (Bridle Trails Park Foundation) feels much relief,” said Don Prince, a former trustee who is still involved with the organization. “(City Light’s) approach now is much more reasonable.”
He said some still questioned whether any trees need be removed at all, “but it would appear to me and the foundation that this is a reasonable compromise.”
Prior to the recent tree survey, the only work done in the past five years to vegetation along the utility’s right-of-way had been side trimming and clearing under the line.
A fact sheet sent out by City Light said between 2001 and 2007 the utility recorded seven tree-related outages along its Eastside line, with five of those occurring in the 0.7 mile section through Bridle Trails State Park. Most of the outages were associated with storms, such as the wind storm on December 14, 2006.
Thomsen said leaving nearly 680 problem trees meant the utility will have to be “more vigilant” in its monitoring.