Trees cut down by mistake put temporary stop to development, violates critical areas code

Skagit Valley Herald

SEDRO-WOOLLEY, WA- One property owner of the city's largest housing development said he's stumped as to why a contractor cut down 13 trees on his property - a move that has temporarily put the brakes on the project.

The city of Sedro-Woolley has issued a critical-areas violation after the trees were cut on the south portion of the 260-lot Sauk Mountain View Estates, off Fruitdale Road, the largest residential development to date in Sedro-Woolley.

Violation of rules that protect environmentally sensitive areas forced John Lange of Sedro-Woolley to temporarily halt construction on his lots. In addition, he's been working with the city to stop any erosion caused when the trees were cut.

The development has run into other problems lately, including excessive soil runoff into a nearby creek and potential damage to a pedestrian trail plowed over by heavy equipment.

Lange is developing 96 lots on the southeast portion of the property next to the Sauk Mountain View Golf Course. Rob Janicki of Sedro-Woolley hopes to set up 102 lots on the northwest section and Bellingham developer Fred Flemming is developing the northeast portion with 62 lots.

A city building inspector stopped by Lange's property in mid-November to check on the work and noticed that 13 trees, including 10 cedars, had been cut down.

Those trees were deemed essential for stabilizing an unsteady slope and preventing erosion, said Jeroldine Hallberg, Sedro-Woolley planning director. The trees were included in the project's permit requirements.

"That steep slope had been receding by about four inches per year," Hallberg said. "We figured it would continue to do so without measures to stabilize it. One of those things was to leave the conifers to help absorb the water."

The city and Lange have been hammering out a plan to replant the southernmost slope with new trees and some native vegetation to prevent future erosion.

Lange said the contractor, Plats Plus of Marysville, mistakenly decided to remove the trees altogether, instead of trimming some of the branches to enhance the view for some homes along the southernmost slope.

Lange said he'd never authorized the removal of the trees.

He has been meeting with city planners who are trying to find a way to fix the problem. He expects to have to replant about three trees to every one that was taken out.

Ultimately, the mistake could cost Lange a chunk of change to fix and could reduce the value of the property.

"Now we have to put in more trees that will block the view," Lange said. "Maintaining the hillside is not that big of a deal. There are about 110 trees there, so cutting those 10 doesn't make much difference. It's the marketing issues and the long-term value of the property that's the problem."

But Lange said the tree problems will only delay construction a few days. He expects the lots and the homes will be finished on his property and Janicki's in the next three years.

This isn't the first roadblock the entire development has encountered during the past year.

City building inspectors also discovered that the contractor on Flemming's northeast portion of the property - which will be called The Village - was using a narrow dirt pedestrian path to transport heavy equipment. Concerns about erosion along the path prompted the city to demand that Flemming incorporate erosion-control measures before workers could continue.

Flemming has met those requirements, city officials say.

And more recently, the state Department of Ecology and Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group has voiced concerns about a thick, muddy soil runoff from the development into Brickyard Creek, a tributary that runs downhill from the property.

The state and local agencies are worried that the muddy runoff could affect salmon that swim in the creek. And now is spawning season for thousands of coho salmonids.

"When soil gets into the river it can clog the fish's gills and suffocate the eggs," said Lucy Applegate, volunteer coordinator for the local conservation group.

Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group has a vested interest in Brickyard Creek, Applegate said.

In 1999, the group started restoring Brickyard Creek, near the golf course. Volunteers rerouted the creek path and planted about 1,000 trees along the sides to provide shade for the water. They've been monitoring the fish that come through and noticed a steady increase in numbers since the work began, Applegate said.

"Something like a construction project up the hill from the restored creek is a concern because we never know what effect it is going to have," Applegate said.

She noticed the muddy water several weeks ago and notified the city. Skagit Fisheries Enhancement plans to meet with the developers and city officials to come up with a better way of preventing future erosion, Applegate said.

Storm water from the development will be routed into Brickyard Creek.

Hallberg said the developers have been working with city officials to reverse any erosion that's taken place since construction began.


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