Our trees but not their trees?

Published on Thu, Dec 12, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Our trees but not their trees?

By Meg Olson

Blaine city council continued to mull over the neighborly dispute between the airport commission and the parks board over Skallman Park.

At their December 9 meeting council members heard from planning and community development director Terry Galvin that the two groups had reached a tentative consensus on the future of the park and its trees. “The park can be a really good asset to the airport and vice-versa,” he insisted.
Galvin reported conclusions from a November 21 parks board public meeting. “They felt very strongly that Skallman Park needed to stay a park,” Galvin said.

The airport commission revised their original drastic proposal to cut all the trees in the park down, fill the pond and use the land for airport development. Instead they suggested the 103 tall conifers, which they believe are a hazard for pilots flying into the airport, be cut down and replaced with lower profile trees.

Airport commission president Doug Fenton also requested the pond be partially filled so it would be further from the taxi-way. “We discussed some way in which the pond could be reshaped to result in a similar sized pond,” he told council. He also recommended that the airport and park swap some land at the north corner to square the park off and move it 20 feet south.

Galvin said the parks board wanted to be sure the trees were really a hazard before cutting them down. “There have been some conflicting opinions,” he said. Local pilot Patrick Armijo, for example, told council he did not consider the trees hazardous, and suggested lighting them as provided for in the city’s airfield regulations would be sufficient. He added that, according to specifications, one of the hangars protruded into the safety zone for approaching planes.

Armijo agreed with the parks board’s finding that no trees should be cut until a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) survey is conducted to determine how real a hazard the trees pose. “I believe the FAA should do a comprehensive inventory of all the hazards,” he said.

The parks board recommended that trees should only be cut if the FAA determined they were hazardous and in that case sale of logs from the trees should be used for park improvements.

Departing parks board member June Auld said the board had to refine several other recommendations to council regarding the issue of the park’s boundary. “We really just discussed the trees,” she said. Galvin added that they were recommending some changes to the city comprehensive plan and the airport binding site plan needed to be made to make clear Skallman Park was a park and not part of the airport.

“I’m opposed to cutting the trees until we know they’re a hazard,” said mayor Dieter Schugt. He added that airport consultant David Ketchum had identified seven areas of non-compliance with FAA safety standards that would need to be addressed. “I don’t think we should just pick on the trees.”

“It would take away so much from the park,” Bonnie Onyon agreed. “It wouldn’t be so park-like.”

Schugt recommended holding off on a decision on the trees until they were further along in the general review of the airport and the feasibility of expansion now underway. “I don’t want to bring in the FAA until we make a decision about the airport,” he said. “If we were to shut the airport down, why cut the trees down?”

Council member John Liebert took umbrage at council’s unwillingness to cut down its own trees while it was taking two property owners south of the airport to court to get them to cut down theirs. “We’ve gone to this private owner and said to cut down his trees,” he said. “We’re cutting down trees in this town over an issue we’re skirting here tonight, talking in circles.”

“As a student of government you ought to know it moves slow,” snapped council member Ken Ely. “You want to railroad this matter. We’ll resolve it in an orderly fashion.”

Their fit of mutual pique quickly receded. “The best thing is to just stay quiet,” council member Bruce Wolf said to his neighbor Marsha Hawkins in the muted aftermath. Council members agreed to Schugt’s suggestion to have a January work session. “I agree we need to come to some decisions but the trees can’t grow much in a month and the safety issue has been here longer than we have,” he said..