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New sound wall design could protect sequoia trees

by: JEFF MCDONALD  - Two sequoia trees on the eastern edge of the Woodburn Interchange Project have garnered significant attention from local residents who want to save the trees. As neighbors rallied to save two large sequoia trees at the east end of the Woodburn Interchange Project, the Oregon Department of Transportation has not ruled out cutting down the trees.

But ODOT has put on hold its application and is looking for ways to protect them. Concerned about liability issues should the trees topple over in a windstorm, the agency is working with engineers and the city to alter the course of the sound wall that would otherwise run right over the roots of the trees.

"We're really trying to find a way to make it work without removing the tress," said Lou Torres, ODOT spokesman. "So far we don't have anything that we can make public yet. We're pretty optimistic that we can find a solution."

At issue is the Woodburn Development Ordinance, which protects significant trees from removal without the city’s approval. The ordinance includes any tree that is two feet or more in diameter measured at five feet above ground level.

Local citizen groups say the city should prevent the Oregon Department of Transportation from cutting down the trees.

“It’s an unusual balance between something the city has wanted for years – construction of the interchange – and the trees, which are clearly of value,“ said Hank Werner, one of six Woodburn residents who spoke at this week’s City Council meeting Monday in favor of protecting the trees.

Several more supporters, including members of the Historic Woodburn Neighborhood Association, attended the meeting.

“The trees mean something to us as residents,” Werner said. "They serve as a gateway to Woodburn."

The owner of one of the properties abutting the trees, Ron Cearley, disagreed that the trees provide intrinsic value.

“When I bought the property six years ago, the trees were pretty,” Cearley said. “But they’re not so pretty anymore. “I for one would like them down. I’ve lived under them for six years and they’re just not that pretty anymore.”

ODOT, meanwhile, will be getting more information from arborists, along with sound wall engineers, to see if there is a way both the sound wall and the trees can coexist, according to the city.

Protectors of the trees hailed the aesthetic and symbolic value of the trees, which can live to be 3,000 years old, according to Ellen Bandelow, a Woodburn Planning Commissioner and member of the HWNA.

The HWNA had collected 650 signatures from neighbors trying to save the trees, Bandelow said.

“Wouldn’t it be a good thing if the city and ODOT got together to save the trees for the people of Woodburn?” Bandelow asked. “It would go a long way to help our relationship with both entities.”

Councilor Jim Cox believes the trees could be protected with changes to the design of the sound wall.

Public Works had been pushing to save the trees by using pilings that would protect the roots of the trees rather than a continuous sound wall, Cox said. Those plans need to be part of the discussion, he said.

“We think it is critical to understand how important these trees are to the people,” he said. “This needs to done with input from the people.”




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