Wholesale tree removal raises concerns about Klahanie Boulevard project

Anyone traveling along Klahanie Boulevard in recent months will have noticed dozens of sawn off trees stumps and holes in the ground. The removal of 179 trees was part of the Klahanie Homeowners Association's (KHA) five year plan to re-landscape the boulevard.

Anyone traveling along Klahanie Boulevard in recent months will have noticed dozens of sawn off trees stumps and holes in the ground.

The removal of 179 trees was part of the Klahanie Homeowners Association’s (KHA) five year plan to re-landscape the boulevard. According to the KHA, the project was necessary as the tree roots were destroying underground irrigation systems and causing the footpath and roadway to buckle in some areas.

“The ornamental/decorative trees (non native trees) were planted in the small strip between the curb and the sidewalk or between the sidewalk and the homeowners fences, by the original developer or King County (source of trees has never been clearly determined),” KHA Community Manager Marta Mckie wrote on the association’s web site in a document outlining the project. “These trees are now causing several issues.”

Mckie told The Reporter this week she had heard from a more than a few residents who were concerned about the tree removal. She said that all the trees were non-native, ornamental species, and so were not subject to strict regulations governing their removal.

“There is a challenge with removing trees that are native, and that has to be checked with King County,” she said. “But as these are ornamental, and in a common area, we can pretty much do what we see fit.”

Due to the large number of trees being removed, the KHA had to apply for a Special Use Permit from the county.

One Issaquah resident contacted The Reporter to raise concerns about the broader environmental impact of the tree removal.

“A few of the trees they are removing may be causing the sidewalks to mound, but I cannot see that the majority of the trees are causing a substantial amount of damage,” the resident said. “The removal of such a large amount of tree canopy in that area will greatly increase storm water runoff and reduce the amount of CO2 absorption along the roadways.”

While some stumps are within a foot of the sidewalk, others are more than 15 feet from the sidewalk.

King County and the Department of Ecology (DOE) both recognize that maintaining existing trees, and planting new ones, is a key way to minimize the impact of pollution from water runoff entering our lakes, streams and water supplies.

As rain falls on streets, sidewalks and other developed land, it mixes with oil, metals and coolants from vehicles, fertilizers and other chemicals from gardens, and bacteria from pet wastes and flows into our water systems. Trees and shrubs stabilize the soil structure, and assist the earth in absorbing stormwater runoff.

Recently revised DOE stormwater regulations place a strong onus on cities to provide better landscaping and stormwater mitigation efforts to reduce runoff. Conscious of the benefit of trees to the holistic functioning of our city scapes, both Issaquah and Sammamish have strict regulations about how many trees must remain in altered developments. The KHA, as part of unincorporated King County, is held to less stringent tree removal standards.

“Since Klahanie is in King County and not yet Sammamish or Issaquah they are not governed by one of those tree protections plans which would review such a large quantity of significant tree,” the resident said. “I am very concerned about the sustainability of their work and the negative impact on the ever decreasing tree canopy in the area. Looks like green grass, more weed killer and more fertilizers may win out over trees.”

The Issaquah resident, who regularly drives through Klahanie, said that by retaining healthy numbers of native trees, plants and shrubs, the KHA would not only be mitigating the substantial impact of the development on the surrounding landscape, but would also greatly reduce the need for regular watering.

“Landscaping planted with native and drought tolerant vegetation would greatly reduce any need for future irrigation systems,” she said. “If they truly are replacing with native plants, then the amount of water usage they would save would also reduce the need for irrigation, and many a tree could stay.”

Mckie said that while there would be some replanting during later stages of the project, “it won’t be tree for tree.” She said she was not aware of any KHA policy or regulation to promote the proper mitigation of stormwater runoff.

According to plans drawn up by project landscaper, Northwest Lanscape Services, some of species used in replanting will be native, such as the Vine Maple. But several are not, including the Festuce – ‘Elijah Blue,’ native to Europe, and the Rosy Glow Barberry, from Asia. The Rosy Glow Barberry is in fact banned in a number of states due to its systematic destruction of native habitats, and is scheduled to be outlawed nationally by 2014.

Northwest Lanscape Services did not return The Reporter’s call requesting information about the species to be used in replanting.

The City of Issaquah, whose Tree Preservation Ordinance is heralded for its responsible environmental stewardship, was recently named a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation. The designation honors its recognition of the environmental and social benefit of higher levels of tree care in American communities.