Judge halts tree-cutting near Ingraham High School
A King County Superior Court judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked the Seattle School District's plans to cut down about 100 trees on the campus of Ingraham High School.
Seattle Times staff reporters
A King County Superior Court judge on Wednesday blocked the Seattle School District's plans to cut down about 100 trees on the campus of Ingraham High School later this week.
After a one-hour hearing, Judge John Erlick granted a temporary restraining order to a group calling itself Save Our Trees, which has argued that the trees, many decades-old evergreens, provide a needed green space, a habitat for birds and a buffer between the school and its neighbors.
The judge set a hearing date of Aug. 25 on the group's request for a temporary injunction. The school district had planned to cut down the trees Friday and Saturday as part of a major renovation and expansion of the school, which was built in 1959.
A spokesman for the district said Wednesday's ruling was not a surprise and that the district expects to prevail when the issue is fully heard in court. A hearing examiner earlier had supported the district's plan.
The group filed a lawsuit this week over the tree-cutting and a hearing is scheduled for Sept. 2. In court Wednesday, Keith Scully, attorney for Save Our Trees, argued that if no restraining order was issued, the trees would be gone before the hearing. He said the trees are more than an urban forest, in that they are a migration corridor for birds and habitat for other animals.
Last week, the district informed neighbors it had withdrawn its pending application for a master-use permit for the school addition, which meant — had the court not intervened — it could have removed the trees now.
"As long as these applications are not pending, no city permits are required for removal of the trees, as none of those trees constitute 'exceptional trees' under city codes," wrote school official Fred Stephens last week. He said the permit would be resubmitted this fall.
Scully asserted that the delay shouldn't be an imposition since the permit was withdrawn. Ron English, attorney for the school district, said the district hopes to begin construction in February on the $24 million renovation project authorized by voters.
The school district's attorney, Shannon McMinimee, said the delay will have a huge impact because the district could find only one contractor willing to cut down the trees for $17,000, and now it's not certain whether that contractor could still do the job. Furthermore, she said, the district wants the trees cut this summer while students are not in school. Erlick said Save Our Trees has a "well-grounded fear" and added if the trees are removed this week it would be an irreversible process. "Once they're removed, they can't be replaced," he said in granting the restraining order.
He set a bond of $7,500 that Save Our Trees must post to help cover the cost of the school district putting off the tree-cutting. Steve Zemke, a spokesman for the plaintiffs, said his group could cover that cost.
"I think the issue has extreme significance. We're losing an urban forest," Zemke said. "[The school district] is trying to scare us away and intimidate us. It feels great to have been vindicated."
School spokesman David Tucker said the ruling was not unexpected and that it doesn't reflect the merits of the Save Our Trees case. "What's been lost is we have students who need to have the building renovated," Tucker said. "We're going to move forward."
The district plans to cut down nearly 70 trees from a stand of 133. It also plans to cut down 30 more trees deemed diseased, remove portable classrooms and build an addition to the school.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has been among those who've expressed disappointment at the district's plan to cut the trees, but a spokesman for the mayor said it appeared there was nothing Nickels could do to stop it.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or email@example.com
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