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Story & Photos by Scott Schaefer
Some Burien residents are upset that an ornamental Cherry Tree located at the corner of Ambaum Blvd. SW and SW 144th Street will be removed soon, due to cleanup work related to a former Seattle City Light substation.
The cleanup – and tree removal – will occur as soon as City Light has its permits and contracting in place.
According to Shannon Straws, City Light’s Senior Environmental Analyst, the former Ambaum substation at this site was tested and found to have levels of contamination above regulated cleanup levels.
“This contamination is associated with historical application of pesticides on the site,” Straws told The B-Town Blog. “Cleanup work involves the physical removal of soil to depths between 10 inches and 30 inches deep across the property.”
In addition, the concrete pad which formerly supported transformers will be removed, as will a majority of the fencing.
“We have undertaken similar cleanups on other former substation properties throughout City Light’s service area, as these properties are no longer needed by City Light.” Straws added. “It is policy to first offer properties to other city departments first and then to other public agencies, before public sale. City Light is in discussions with the City of Burien, and no other agency has expressed interest.”
The particular tree in question – an ornamental cherry tree (age unknown) – is currently scheduled to be removed for cleanup work.
But tree preservation is possible “using specialized soil vactoring methods.”
“…however it is costly, noisy, time consuming, and always results in some level of survival risk,” Straws said. “Vactor removal of the soil around tree roots can stress trees, leaving them open to possible diseases,” she added.
“It is probably the most beautiful cherry tree in Burien and just lights that corner up with blossoms every spring,” one resident wrote.
At this time City Light plans to preserve some very large Cedar trees located along the alley of the former Ambaum substation, as they were identified early on as being good candidates for this work. The two Cedars are large significant trees with a good chance of being retained during any future development.
“The extent of efforts and resources allocated to preserve trees depends on the likely purchaser of the property, who will ultimately be responsible for the fate of any preserved vegetation,” Straws said. “The City of Burien is currently evaluating whether they would like to acquire this property, and we will continue working with them moving forward.”
Some concerned residents plan on writing to the Burien City Council, or starting a petition.
Another resident said:

“Burien needs to buy the property from the City most likely since anyone else who buys the property would probably cut down the tree. There are many good uses for that area including a Sustainable Burien small space garden demo area, a bicycle swap, and so on. I can’t manage all of this by myself so we would need to get a task list together, and with enough people, we could spend very little time each yet get a good petition together with some creative ideas. Burien needs more small pocket parks.”

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