City sues homeowners, tree cutters over decimation to public land in West Seattle

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b7addb0e-8e41-47fc-861f-8a486e537430-large16x9_west_seattle_trees_cut_07Source: Pete Holmes(City Attorney) 09/21

City Attorney Pete Holmes:

“Earlier this year, the City learned of unpermitted improper tree cutting on City property in West Seattle near the 3200 block of 35th Ave. SW.  Today, the City filed two lawsuits, naming people the City believes were involved in the tree cutting.  The property is in an environmentally critical area on a steep slope. Approximately 150 trees of varying sizes, including many big-leaf maples and Scouler’s willows, were felled.

“My office has been involved in the City’s response.  We launched an investigation to assess the extent of damage and identify the responsible parties. To that end, we retained a consulting arborist to assess the damage and prepare a comprehensive restoration plan.

“No one has yet come forward to give the City the full story of what happened despite SPD’s best efforts and extensive investigation. However, we are satisfied that we now know enough to proceed with civil lawsuits.  We expect to learn that additional people, beyond those named in the lawsuits, were involved with the cutting as the suits progress.  Between the lawsuits, the City seeks over $1.6 million in damages and fines.   The City seeks relief on several grounds, including timber trespass, damage to land, trespass, negligence, environmentally critical areas violations, violations of the parks code and violations of the city’s tree and vegetation management in public places code.

“On its damages theories, the City generally alleges that the defendants and/or their agents cut down trees on City property without permission when they should have known better.  The extensive tree cutting damaged the trees and the underlying land.  On its code violation theories, because the cutting took place on City property and some occurred in City right of way, the cutters or their employers were required to obtain a number of permits before they cut any trees.  No permits were issued to authorize the cutting and penalties and fines are therefore appropriate.

“The SPD criminal investigation of this matter is ongoing, and it is possible that SPD will refer this matter to the King County Prosecutor or my office in the future for potential criminal prosecution.”