Officials look at removing poplar tree corridor along Sims Way

Proposal expected to generate strong public pushback

Posted 9/16/21

Chainsaws may be coming to Port Townsend’s signature tunnel of trees entryway to town.

Officials with the Jefferson County Public Utility District, city of Port Townsend, and Port of Port …

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Officials look at removing poplar tree corridor along Sims Way

Proposal expected to generate strong public pushback


Chainsaws may be coming to Port Townsend’s signature tunnel of trees entryway to town.

Officials with the Jefferson County Public Utility District, city of Port Townsend, and Port of Port Townsend have been talking in recent weeks of removing the long stretches of poplar trees on both sides of Sims Way in a nearly $2 million project that would include putting power lines underground, adding sidewalks along the Boat Haven property line, and replanting both sides of the street with more environmentally appropriate tree choices.

City, PUD, and port officials have all acknowledged during recent proposal discussions the potential public blowback the plan will create.

The tree-lined entryway into Port Townsend is an iconic feature, City Engineer Steve King acknowledged during a briefing on the proposal earlier this month to the Port Townsend Council Infrastructure and Development Committee.

“We know there is a lot of emotional attachment and concern about that,” he said of the tree-lined corridor leading to downtown.

The plan calls for the removal of 60 mature trees on the Boat Haven side of the road, and 70 that border Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park.

King said the Parks, Recreation, and Tree Advisory Board had reviewed the plan and endorsed it, but they also warned city leaders to “get ready for some strong pushback.”

Port Townsend Councilwoman Amy Howard, in a nod to the other lightning-rod issues that were also on that day’s agenda, such as housing for the homeless, dryly noted: “I would like to know why we didn’t put parking on this agenda, too, so we could become the most hated committee immediately at the gate.”

“There is going to be pushback. It’s going to be an unpopular decision one way or the other,” Howard said.

There are going to be people who are going to be unhappy with the proposal, she added.

But Howard also said officials had a duty to do what’s best.

“I see the necessity of the project,” Howard said.

That need comes from the toll the trees are already taking.

Jefferson County PUD has documented problems with power lines near the trees on the Boat Haven side of the street. Electricity has been seen arcing from the lines into the trees, and some of the poplars have been scorched brown from the contact.

Taking out the trees would also give the port room to expand the boatyard at Boat Haven, which could happen if the trees were removed and the power lines put underground.

On the lagoon side of the street, the city’s gateway plan going back to 1993 recommended thinning the stretch of poplars to open up views to the lagoon, and a 1986 study recommended the trees be taken out and replaced with native vegetation.

There have been evergreen trees planted just behind the string of poplars, but those trees have been outcompeted by the vigorous growth of the poplars.

“The suckers are growing big now. The problem is just getting worse,” King said.

King stressed the landscape will not be left bare if the trees are removed.

“It wouldn’t be blank, it wouldn’t be empty,” King said of the corridor.

The project is expected to unfold in five phases, with funding determining how much will get done.

The first phase would be tree trimming and removal, with undergrounding power lines in the second phase.

The third phase is installing a path and tree replanting.

The boatyard would be expanded in the fourth phase, with tree removal and planting on the Kah Tai side coming in the fifth phase.

The city, port, and PUD hope to purse public infrastructure funding from Jefferson County to pay for the project.

At last week’s meeting of the Port of Port Townsend commissioners, executive director Eron Berg set out what the tree removal would mean for Boat Haven: an expansion of the boatyard.

“The scope of which is tree removal, replanting, tree removal, undergrounding of the transmission lines, construction of a new pedestrian pathway, expansion of the yard, block wall, fencing, yard electrical and lighting,” Berg said.

“It’s a shy acre of additional yard ... in sort of a ribbon format,” he added.

Obtaining public infrastructure funding would bring the county into the project as a partner, Berg told commissioners.

“It would seem to be a very attractive project for public infrastructure and job creation,” he said.

The project would also fit with the port’s hope to expand the boat yard on both its north and west sides — a larger proposal that carries a higher price tag.

“In total, we think for about $5 million we could get about 4.7 acres or so,” Berg said. “But the ripest project would be the partner project that gets us about a shy acre and addresses some immediate safety concerns.”

Multiple permits would be needed for the project to move forward.

Street development permits are needed for work within the Sims Way right of way, as well as a flood development permit, and clearing-and-grading permit.

Tree removal, underground lines, and installing a path are expected to cost the PUD approximately $700,000.

The port faces costs of $900,000 for expansion of the boatyard under the proposal.

Replanting on the Boat Haven side of Sims Way would cost the city approximately $170,000.

Tree removal on the Kah Tai side is expected to cost the city roughly $200,000.


15 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • tmerz

    This plan makes sense to me, especially burying the power lines underground. The transition will be unsettling, as most transitions are, but it is the job of the council to plan strategically and in that light I offer my support.

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • Charley

    Lets cut the ones down by Chevy chase too I hungry. Bzzzzz buzz bzz ef yew puhn Kass "people" I thought this was a tree hugging town. Now I see it's all nuts and berries-bristol bays words Bzzzzzzzzz bzzzzz. Total destruction only solution. Right Hiroshima Nagasaki , fuh q mo fos

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • Charley

    Literally one of my favorite things about town... those trees . Atleast let them turn yellow uno Mas. Kill you later , build a green bridge hahahahhahaha nwa nukka

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • Charley

    Let's kill all da orca too

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • Charley

    You had me at underground!

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • Charley

    Small axe

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • Charley

    Hire me for the job

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • Charley

    Ajdbdndixibsbs hdudud udisosjbsid hx9idhshd . :Drrrrrrrr

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • MargeS

    The poplar trees were planted by H.J. Carroll many years ago. As you come down Sims Way S Curve the trees are the first thing you see and frame the lagoon and the hillside where the historic JC Courthouse appears. A beautiful scene. Looks like the city has some extra money, perhaps it would be better spent repairing some of the roads in town, especially Lawrence street. The trees can be removed when they are no longer in good health and replaced with others. Is it just me or does the comment section get sillier & sillier?

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • Dage Corvish

    Boardum has set in.

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • joanneg3451

    you are about to unleash a large hornet's nest. You need to get the history of the poplars. They belong there. This is part of the beauty of Port Townsend. I keep getting furious about people who move to Port Townsend and then immediately want to change it to suit their needs. Those of us who were actually born and raised in Port Townsend know the history of the trees and the reason to LEAVE THEM ALONE. Take your money and do something more popular, like fix some of the roads in town.

    Thursday, September 16, 2021 Report this

  • MargeS

    Sorry I commented. I will leave it to the people who could care less about history.

    Friday, September 17, 2021 Report this

  • forsho

    Having served, and Chaired, both the City Parks Commission and the (former) Tree Committee at various times over the past 40+ years, as well as having conducted the state-funded Port Townsend Tree Survey (1985-87) I am well informed of the history of the poplars, which not only line Sims Way, but also the south and west edges of Kah Tai Lagoon.

    They were planted as a quick fix after the dredge spoils from the Boat Haven were spread north of Sims Way in 1964. The downside of poplars, which have long fallen out of favor in most American cities, is that they are brittle, short-lived, and their roots disrupt sidewalks and other paved areas..

    Now is the right time to plant a new generation of trees for the long term. The quick fix lasted 60 years which coincides with the estimated life span of Lombardy poplar.

    One of the most compatible near-shore trees that is longer-lived, and a good match for a 170-year-old historic community, is Shore Pine. Lower Sims Way is one of most windy, exposed areas here, and poplars, being narrow columnar trees, do nothing to temper that wind, instead being susceptible to breakage after storms, as some of us can remember from some past peak wind events. Shore pine, conversely, is the ideal tree form to provide shelter from wind at the ground level. There is a row of shore pine on the 12th Street side of Kah Tai, planted there around 1983 by community members; although some have been damaged not by wind but by vandalism, they do provide a good visual glimpse of the possible reforestation of the Sims Way side of the lagoon area. They branch near to the ground and give excellent protection from wind--the name "shore" pine is an obvious clue of their rightness for this location. They won't die off after 60 years like poplars nor have their tops or stems break off after a howling gale. Not to mention, they are native to the Olympic Peninsula unlike the "Lombardy" poplar--a tree that has no wildlife value for food or nesting. Shore pine, being evergreen, could transform that street corridor with year-round foliage instead of the six-month leaf cycle of poplars.

    Lastly, the poplar is an allergenic tree, for 60 years showering much of the town with irritating pollens that cause many to have allergic reactions and sneezing for weeks every spring. And on that note, I urge the City to take pollen into consideration when choosing trees for the replanting episode. Pine is one of the best solutions. Please: don't be planting "lollipop" street trees as depicted in the artist's conception with this article! That is exactly the tree shape that will suffer the most wind damage at that breezeway location, and probably need expensive irrigation support as well. Shore pine is perfectly adapted to thriving on the limited amount of precip that falls at this location (see: 12th Street non-irrigated pines).

    Change is challenging for some people, but change is inevitable. Let's invest in the long-term this time.

    Friday, September 17, 2021 Report this

  • TomT

    "Over [our] dead bodies" is what the City said when Washington State Ferries wanted to take down those trees and use that stretch as a holding area for the ferry -- this was after WSF took all of the local ferries out of service in the "Thanksgiving Massacre" of 2007, during the discussions about the design of the WSF reservations system.

    Friday, September 17, 2021 Report this

  • DeborahKate

    I appreciate the artistic beauty of the poplars but it's important to look at the whole of their impact and lifespan. I really appreciate all the information here to help me understand upcoming changes. Thanks for a well written piece and to Forrest Schumer for history and perspective on the problems of poplars.

    Thursday, September 23, 2021 Report this