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City finds fault with unapproved work at construction site

Trees damaged at fire hall project

LANGLEY — Residents are seething over what they say is devastating damage to landmark trees that happened during construction of the new fire hall on Camano Avenue.

Even worse, the work that caused the destruction may be based on a mistake, city officials said this week.

Several Douglas firs and western red cedars on the construction site will probably die within the next three to 10 years as a result of trenching, ditching and other work, said Elliott Menashe, an environmental consultant with Greenbelt Consulting in Clinton.

“Cutting the trees would have been a cleaner death,” he said. “There is no excuse for this sort of criminal ignorance in the construction of a public building.”

Both fibrous feeder roots and large-diameter anchoring roots have been seriously damaged and severed during excavation for the installation of an irrigation system, he said. The work has virtually destroyed the entire root system to a depth of six to eight inches.

And it appears that the work that caused the damage wasn’t approved by the city.

“There is really no excuse for this kind of mistake,” Menashe said. “Someone dropped the ball. A valuable public resource has been vandalized.”

Once Langley officials learned of the problem, they conducted a site visit earlier this week and found the work was not part of the approved plans for the fire hall campus, said Larry Cort, Langley’s director of community planning.

“Basically, it was a lot of trenching for irrigation in an area that had not been approved for such work,” Cort said.

“We had specific instructions to preserve all the on-site trees and the approved plans reflect those instructions,” he said.

In fact, fire department and city officials had repeatedly said the project would preserve most trees on the property.

The city sent a letter to Carletti Architects, the builders of the project, on July 9 to point out several problems at the site.

The architect could not immediately be reached for comment late this week.

According to the letter, the city never received nor approved an irrigation plan for the project.

Further, Langley complained that significant trenching had taken place in the city’s right of way and that such work was not authorized under the permit the city had issued for the project.

In addition, the city told the builders in the letter that they do not permit installation of irrigation within its rights-of-way where there is parking on the side of the road.

The city has told the builder to correct the violations and has asked for a professional arborist to review the disturbance and tree damage on the site by July 18.

Depending on the results of the arborist’s review, the city may require mitigation to compensate for the potential loss of the trees.

Among other measures, the builders will also be required to put up construction barriers along the drip lines of the trees and remove excess soils at the base of the trees near the Island Transit park-and-ride pullout.

Menashe recommended that a “tree casualty/damage appraisal” be done. He said the cost of the trees and additional landscaping to fix the damage should be charged to the contractor and other responsible parties.

However, it may be too late for the trees. Menashe said his diagnosis looks grim.

“I’d say all the significant trees on the property are at risk of decline, some more than others, due to extremely poor and unnecessarily destructive development practices,” he said.

“The trees are probably on the order of 80 to 100 years old, though I haven’t conducted a ring count,” Menashe said. “From an informal, cursory examination, I would say that all significant trees on the property were in good to excellent condition prior to construction. They were well-rooted in deep soils, had grown in exposed conditions, and were thus windfirm. Their form was ideal for specimen trees.”

Menashe said he hopes the city learned a lesson from the problem.

“I hope the city of Langley will finally take steps to develop a tree ordinance,” he said.

And indeed, a tree ordinance is in the works at Langley City Hall.

“We expect to move forward quickly with very specific practices for contractors regarding tree protection which will be appended to all future permits,” Cort said. “We also have a tree protection ordinance on our list of priority code amendments.”

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