The iconic Lombardy poplar trees lining both sides of Sims Way near the entryway to downtown Port Townsend are likely to be removed in the near future, after city, port, and Jefferson County Public …
The iconic Lombardy poplar trees lining both sides of Sims Way near the entryway to downtown Port Townsend are likely to be removed in the near future, after city, port, and Jefferson County Public Utility District officials passed a resolution to start funding a $2 million project that includes the removal and replacement of the trees.
The city council passed a resolution last week to enable the city, PUD, and Port of Port Townsend to partner and apply for grant funding to finance the removal and replacement of the trees.
The public has generally disapproved of the proposal to remove the Lombardy poplars, seeing the trees as the long-standing leafy “welcoming committee” into Port Townsend’s commercial district.
Although the poplar trees are a scenic part of the gateway, officials fear the age, positioning, and potential safety hazards of the trees are too important to ignore and must be chopped down.
With the poplar trees on Sims Way nearing the end of their lifespan (which is typically around 60 years), the trees are a potential safety hazard if any were to topple down and potentially hit a car or pedestrian on the road or sidewalk, officials said.
“As the trees get older, they’ll tend to rot in the center. Poplars have a trend to lose branches anyway,” said Public Works Director Steve King. “They also have the potential to collapse. That’s another safety hazard.”
Additionally, the poplars’ branches have started to touch nearby power lines, making them a potential fire hazard.
The Jefferson County PUD has documented problems with tree branches touching the power lines parallel to the poplars, and electricity has been seen arcing between the power lines and trees, burning leaves and branches.
“Jefferson County PUD and Port of Port Townsend approached us with complaints about the wires against trees, causing safety hazards,” King said. “You could walk down and see burnt leaves on the wires.”
The trees have also made it impossible to expand the neighboring Boat Haven boatyard, which badly needs the space to hold more ships.
The removal of the trees would benefit Port of Port Townsend and potentially add more jobs for the organization, port officials said earlier.
“If we remove these trees, it’s a big deal for the public,” King said.
King agrees with the public on the beauty and importance of the poplars, but said safety concerns outweigh the aesthetic beauty and long history of the trees.
“We agree they’re iconic to the community and that they are beautiful,” King said.
But the potential safety hazards are “not something that we can ignore. Our job is to help engage the community to figure out how, what, where to replant.”
Although the tree removal project is a new hot-button topic around town, the removal of the trees isn’t a new problem by any means. A 1986 study recommended taking out the poplar trees and replacing them with vegetation that uses less water and is native to the Puget Sound region.
“Those poplars are a detriment to native trees; they suck a lot of the water,” King said.
Additionally, the vertical shape of the Lombardy poplars is not a suitable nesting tree for many local bird species.
Another study in 1993 recommended the poplar trees be thinned out to leave a better view of Kah Tai Lagoon.
King said the improved visibility of Kah Tai would be beneficial “both for safety, and you get to realize the vision for how to enhance Kah Tai.”
Although King knows many residents are unhappy about the project, he encouraged locals to give input on the plans, and make recommendations for how the area should be replanted.
King and project coordinators are “looking at different options on how replanting will look,” King said.
“I want to encourage public feedback, we learn from that.”
The planned project to remove and replace the poplars, along with expanding the boatyard, moving the power lines underground, and installing a path along the road, will cost an estimated $2 million.
The project will involve five primary phases of construction and removal.
Phase 1 will mitigate potential safety hazards by trimming branches and leaves near power lines, and removing the poplar trees on the Boat Haven side of Sims Way.
The second step will move the power lines on Sims Way underground, and Phase 3 will involve replanting new trees where the Lombardy poplars are currently, and installing a walkway for pedestrians.
For Phase 4, the project will expand the boatyard for Boat Haven, adding space for more vessels.
The final phase will involve removing the trees on the Kah Tai side of Sims Way, along with planting new trees in their stead.
The tree removal, under-grounding of power lines, and installation of a pedestrian walkway would go through Jefferson County PUD, and would cost around $700,000.
For Port of Port Townsend, the expansion of the Boat Haven boatyard would cost approximately $900,000.
On the city’s side, the tree removal and replanting on the Kah Tai side would cost about $200,000, while replanting trees on the Boat Haven side would take $170,000 to do. Combining the two, it would cost around $370,000.
Between the city, Port of Port Townsend, and Jefferson County PUD, the cost comes out to roughly $1.9 million.
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