[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]

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This tree was over 150 years old, and it began growing here years before Gottlieb Burian built his home on the lake that later bore his name. It survived the logging of this area, perhaps because it was too small or inconvenient on the day the lumberjacks came. It lived for 150 years, but the City of Burien would not let it live one more day when I asked for more time. I asked the Parks Department, the Planning Department, and the City Council why it needed to be cut down without further review, and I got no answer. Other citizens, who favored the removal of the tree, freely received copies of the arborist’s report and the geologist’s report. All I got was silence. I have a few more questions for the City Council and staff.
Do you represent me as a citizen? If I have questions about my local government, who will answer them it not my elected representatives? What are you there for, if not to represent Burien citizens?
What was the value of this tree? The Arbor Day Foundation, which Burien often boasts has bestowed this city with the title of Tree City USA, places the value of an ordinary tree at between $1,000 to $10,000. This tree, being one of a kind, 150 years old, used as a perch tree for the eagles, and being the main reason the park was created in the first place, was probably worth much more.
How much did it cost to cut down this tree?
What was the likelihood it could have injured someone if it fell? Isn’t it true that the crew that cut down the tree was much more at risk of injury or death than anyone would have been if the tree was left standing?
If citizen safety is such a priority for city staff, why wait eight years to cut the alder looming over the stairs? Why not fix the stairs that have been broken for three years?
Why was this work started before a permit was applied for? Can the average citizen expect the instant granting of a permit when he starts off by breaking the rules he knows well?
Why weren’t the owners of the property notified that the tree would be cut?
Did the city get permission to cut this tree from State and Federal authorities responsible for eagle habitat preservation?
Why did you not get the opinion of a second arborist?
Given the value of the tree, why didn’t the city consult an arborist 8 years ago and ask for ways to protect the health of the tree?
I get that city staff does not like it when I question their methods and choices. I try to avoid talking to people I don’t like, but when it is my job to get something done, I don’t have the luxury of choosing who I can ignore. Most people, during the course of their jobs, don’t get to decide they will serve one customer but not another. As paid public employees, does the staff of Burien think they have the right to freely give public information to people who agree with them and restrict access to information for people who disagree with them?
Why did this tree have to die?
– Jim Branson

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18 replies on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: 'Why Did This Tree Have to Die?'”

  1. Good letter and good questions. It seems to be a thought that I read more and more regarding a non- responsive city government.

  2. I invite those citizens who favored removal, and got information, to share it. Perhaps there is a clue as to how this happened and why there.

  3. I’m sorry Jim. I did enjoy seeing that tree as well. I am guessing that the city council and manager spent more time and effort to go after Jack Block for a stupid picture than to deal with a decision like this. This tree was spared becoming a hull of a WWI ship all to end up like this.

  4. I always thought roots held soil in place. With this tree cut down won’t the roots die and decay allowing the soil they contained to move?

    1. SSW,
      You are right, but it takes about ten years for the root system to lose its structural integrity. By then new underbrush and immature trees are established (with their relatively insignificant root systems) and the city can use the logging companies’ line of “Look, nature has recovered. The slide isn’t our fault.”

  5. It is unreasonable for the city to remove something of such age, beauty, and structural support for the soil without a full discussion from all sides. The decision to cut down such an old tree (one that watched the ENTIRE development of our city) cannot be made lightly. You cannot replace history of this nature.

    1. @Mykal – nor can you replace a life lost to a tree which falls upon someone! The city had no choice because if the tree could possibly be viewed as a liability to anyone using the park they would be liable for HUGE amounts of money in a lawsuit.
      Money is short enough in Burien that we do not need them possibly paying out millions for not having promptly removed a tree which could be seen as hazardous.
      Any possibility of the tree being a hazard pretty much rules out a citizen committee to gather, meet, discuss and reach, maybe, an agreement.

      1. elizabeth2, if the tree was absolutely 100% guaranteed to fall in the next month, what are the odds of it falling on a person? Trees fall all the time. Many trees have fallen in the park, and no one was hurt. No one can deny that, if the tree had remained standing, a person visiting the park would have run a much greater risk of death on the way to the park than while walking in the park. A car accident, random shooting, suicide, cancer, sudden cardiac arrest, any other possible cause of death would have been more likely than death due to the Perch Tree falling. Name one person in Burien that was ever killed by a falling tree.

        1. I agree. I think it is more likely that someone is eventually going to fall and break their neck on the bottom stairs. There is a lawsuit waiting in the wings for this one.That would be quite a task for the fire dept. as well to extricate someone from the beach up to the parking area.

          1. I do not think this is an either/or situatio in regards to the tree and the steps at the bottom of Eagle’s Landing.
            If the tree is viewed as hazardous, public safety means it has to be taken care of. If the steps are broken and a hazard, they need to be fixed. Both present the city of Burien with potential large lawsuits for negligence.
            It has nothing to do with loving trees or not. The city of New York has lost millions and millions in suits involving trees in the park and Burien is no different. They have a legal obligation to provide for public safety in their parks when they are aware of dangers.

  6. The City provided both an arborist report and a landslide evaluation (GeoEngineers) which concluded the tree endangered park users. Not being qualified to contradict the experts, I couldn’t place public safety in second position. And, just looking at the slide undercutting the tree, I wouldn’t have given it much more time anyway. Wind or water would take it. I’ve been planting more trees this week, and wish them a long life.

  7. I would be crushed if my neighbours removed some of the beautiful old trees in my hood. I like trees.

  8. To Jim Branson-
    I am sorry to see these two trees removed and there is no excuse for why they were not saved. The name of this park, Eagle Landing, was named and saved because of the eagles that used it for many years. This was a tourist draw for people to come to the park/city. The City of Burien has known for the last six years(under the reign of Mike Martin), that there was a major storm water mis-management problems in the area. The residents of the Seahurst area have gone to the city on several occasions and discussed the problem. Larry Blanchard/ex Public Works Director came out and looked at it. He described exactly how it could be fixed but nothing happened. So now the mis-managed storm water uncut the roots of these trees(old timers) and the city claims they had to come down and away go the eagles.
    Mr. Martin needs to pay closer attention to the infrastructure of the Burien and maintaining it rather than setting up all of his political schemes inside and outside of the city. At the annexation meetings(4 meetings), he spent his time bragging about how he spends his weekends at Hicks Lake and Steve Cox Field(both are in White Center). Maybe if he spent some time in the Burien Parks which he is supposed to supervise, he might be aware of the storm water problems, damage to the infrastructure of the parks, the homeless living in the parks and the ongoing graffiti problems in the Burien Parks.
    These trees didn’t need to die. They were neglected by the City of Burien. If I go to the dentist and he tells me I have a cavity that needs filling, I need to go and have it filled immediately to prevent further damage and save the tooth. If I wait six years before I see the dentist again (like Burien has done with this storm water situation), I will lose my tooth-a tooth that probably could have been saved had I practiced responsible denial care. These trees were like that tooth. If someone had done something with the storm water six years ago, the trees probably could have been saved. Money was not the total problem here. Burien seems to have the money for things that Mr. Martin feels are in his best interest. He writes a number of his $25,000 contracts annually that the City Council does not oversee and doesn’t even know about, for his pet projects. Money that could be directed toward storm water issues.Tree killer, storm water mis-manager,Mike Martin stays on and continues to plague Burien residents with other things he mis-manages such as Town Square, the budget, the Advisory Boards, Animal Control, the business plan for the city that never seems to happen, our dying business core,etc., etc. These things in our city are being undercut by Mr. Martin like the roots of the trees were undercut by the lack of proper storm water management.
    Jim, I loved these trees too and the wonderful eagles I saw in them for many years. I will miss seeing the eagles teach their babies to fly from these trees. This is a very sad loss for the Burien environment.

  9. elizabeth2, the New York Times articles that discuss the dangers of trees say that Central Park receives 38 million visitors a year, and they have had one death in ten years because of a tree. Inside Central Park, with all of its trees, more people have died from every other cause you can think of than have died from falling trees. I would ask you again–can you name one person who has died because of a tree in Burien? For people to say, “I place the safety of park users above the value of a tree,” is to deliberately misunderstand the issue just for the sake of argument. The only people at serious risk from the Eagle Perch Tree were the men who cut it down, and they would not have had to risk their lives cutting it if they had just left it alone.

  10. 407 people in the United States were killed by falling trees or limbs from 1995 to 2007. Over 25 million Americans died of other causes during that period. Is anyone really going to say that the Eagle Perch Tree was cut down for public safety? During the time that 400 people died from falling trees, 4,000 people died in bathtubs.

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