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Bridge project that’s part of North Portland Greenway raises concerns over tree removal

Posted by on February 21st, 2013 at 2:35 pm

City design plans showing tree slated for removal.

A bridge project in St. Johns that’s part of the North Portland greenway and the 40-Mile Loop has gotten some unwanted attention this week. Portland Parks & Recreation is set to start construction on a new biking and walking bridge between Pier Park and Chimney Park; but removal of a large sequoia tree has sparked an outcry from at least one concerned citizen.

The story broke earlier this week on KATU-TV:

“The bridge would be part of the ten-mile North Portland greenway. Right now, Union Pacific Railroad tracks separate the two parks and the bridge would go over those tracks. But construction plans call for one giant sequoia inside Pier Park to fall in the process.

It is a tough pill to swallow for Dennis Keepes. He has sounded the alarm bells, trying to build enough support to save the tree.”

Here’s the KATU segment video:

Apparently that story spurred enough concern with other residents that, according to the Willamette Week, the City has decided to deploy a professional mediator to settle the situation.

Here’s a snip from the Willamette Week story:

“We’re under direction from the mayor’s office that we make sure everyone understands the process,” says Parks Bureau Spokesman Mark Ross. He says the mediator has been brought out “for the two people who are adamant that they don’t want to see the tree cut down under any circumstances.”

Given the range of controversies bike-related projects often encounter, it’s unfortunate that it has come to this. The City plans to cut the tree down this week β€” that is if they can resolve the opposition first.

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  • Nick February 21, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    It would be nice to hear a serious explanation of why the tree needs to be killed. All I’ve seen so far amounts to “the tree hugger guy doesn’t want it cut down” and “the Parks Bureau says they have to cut it down.” Can’t they go around it? Why not? It appears that there’s plenty of space.

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    • shirtsoff February 21, 2013 at 7:19 pm

      A realignment survey or at least an explanation of any associated difficulties would be tremendously helpful in understanding the either-or presentation of this issue. From the article image, it looks as though the path could come advance via a different angle, but there may be factors on the other side of the tracks that would not make this desirable. Is possible to have the path encircle the tree? Could an oval pathway go around the tree while permitting sufficient growth space for the tree for another couple of centuries? Bike traffic could be directed to travel to the right of the tree from either direction like a roundabout. I’m sure this would elevate the project costs quite a bit but it sounds very appealing to me.

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  • Patrick February 21, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    If it were critical infrastructure, they would find a way around it.

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    • Stretchy February 22, 2013 at 7:45 am

      If it were a road, I’m betting most posters on this board would be saying we have to save this tree at all costs.

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      • Chris I February 22, 2013 at 9:46 am

        Several posters have already said that.

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  • Actual Beaver February 21, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    If the mediator can’t solve the problem it seems like it would take about 10 minutes to girdle the tree sufficiently to end the debate.


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    • shirtsoff February 21, 2013 at 7:20 pm

      That would be illegal and not in the collective interests of anyone due to the resulting bad publicity and condemnation.

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  • CaptainKarma February 21, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    I don’t believe “bicycle” or “bike path” was mentioned at all by KATU. Instead, “pedestrian”: and “greenway”. Evolution in perception.

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  • Allan February 21, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Does it make cycling advocates look sane when this guy is the opposition?

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  • Granpa February 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    The property is owned by Portland Parks and they have an interest in saving trees. If you look at the graphic you see that the portion of the park where the bridge approach is located is surrounded by trees, all of which are massive sequoia. The designer made every effort to avoid trees, but routing a paved multi use path through those woods could not be done without this casualty. This bridge is part of the infrastructure that Bike Portland readers have been clamoring for, and the route will bring more people into this wonderful grove of redwoods than ever knew it existed. You need to break some eggs to make an omelet.

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    • Nick February 21, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      I’m sure that’s all true, but it hasn’t been articulated to the public very well. From the diagram, it appears that the path could easily fit between trees if it was simply re-positioned. This is just a layman’s 5-second analysis so I’m sure I’m missing something, but no one’s telling me what it is.

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      • Granpa February 21, 2013 at 3:40 pm

        To build the approach you need to excavate a depth that accommodates base material and pavement. there are roots from several trees between the tree trunks and these would be damaged or cut to route the path between them. Also at about 100 years old these trees are merely adolescents and still growing. If the trees were not compromised by cutting/crushing roots or compacting the soil around the roots the growing trees would soon destroy the pavement.

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        • Jeff TB February 21, 2013 at 4:13 pm

          Granpa, so I think what you are saying is that by removing this one tree and leaving more room between the path and the remaining trees, there will be less damage to the surrounding tree’s roots. Right?

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          • Terry D February 21, 2013 at 11:03 pm

            That is exactly what grandpa is saying. There are many trees there and the engineers picked the spot that would require the removal of only one. There is no other way to do it within the other requirements of the bridge and trail project without possible root damage to multiple trees. The park’s department is planting over 100 more to replace it.

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  • maxd February 21, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    It would be great to see a couple of alternative trail alignments reviewed by Landscape Architects and reviewed by an arborist to see if this tree could be saved. There are trail-building techniques and arboricultural techniques that can often accommodate trails near trees.

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  • was carless February 21, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    I wonder if it would be possible to drive a couple of small steel piles into the ground and support a light steel framed onramp near the tree instead of cutting it down?

    Or build something like the Capilano Suspension Bridge/elevated tree paths in British Columbia:


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    • just joe February 21, 2013 at 6:51 pm

      I would be happier spending the limited money on a safe, above grade crossing over the N Columbia Blvd Truck route entering from the landfill into Chimney Park.

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    • Jeff M February 22, 2013 at 12:03 am

      Wouldn’t it be great if Portland was actually that progressive?

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      • Chris I February 22, 2013 at 7:13 am

        Going with something like that is a terrible idea for this project. This is long-term infrastructure. We want this to be here in 100 years. As the trees grow and shift or possibly die, the anchor points will move, destroying the bridge or at least heavily damaging it. Additionally, I highly doubt that Union Pacific will allow air rights over its property for a bridge that is supported by a tree, due to the liability.

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  • yellowjacket February 21, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Why not route the Green Trail where it was originally supposed to be, along the south side of the Columbia Slough beginning at Portland Road? This would extend the bike trail that already runs from Denver Street to Portland Road. The trail would run on an existing dirt road, then cut over the landfill and join another dirt road that begins at the water control structure and runs all the way to Kelly Point Park. No tree cutting required, and it would be in a gorgeous natural setting. But the Friends of Smith & Bybee Lakes nixed that route which was actually in a Master Plan.

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    • just joe February 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      I am not sure what planning document you refer to, but the Metro Smith and Bybee Trail Alignment approved by Metro Council calls for a slough crossing to the landfill from S&B, through the landfill and then crossing N Columbia into Chimney, bridging the RR into Pier and then on to the river. Check out npgreenway.org for the visioned alignment or go to Portland Parks who is managing the feasibility study now underway http://www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/56617
      Having been actively engaged in N Portland interests for nearly a decade, I have watched and participated in this trails evolution, and hope to be able to navigate my wheelchair down’ the completed N Portland Willamette Greenway Trail before I check out.
      Most everybody has an opinion but check out the facts before you speak out.

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      • yellowjacket February 22, 2013 at 11:30 am

        My knowledge is based on documents before you became actively involved. They are from the 80’s and 90’s. Metro S&B Committee subverted the Master Agreement (or whatever it was called) to re-route the trail. I no longer have the documents. Handed them all over to the SJ Neighborhood Assn.

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        • just joe February 22, 2013 at 9:50 pm

          I will look for that document, I may have it in my files. Having a document means little though. More “master plans” line someones bookshelf than are actually implemented. I am more excited about movement on the npgreenway trail even before the feasability study is completed. I think that speaks as to the interest and desire of Portland for a signature trail that connects jobs and neighborhoods.

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  • dwainedibbly February 21, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Seems like a crappy thing to have to do in order to encourage healthy activities. I vote for re-routing, redesigning, or whatever they need to do to save the tree.

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  • just joe February 21, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    The reason for the need to remove the tree(s) is the need to have sufficient height to provide clearance over the railroad. This is at the only sufficiently high elevation to satisfy engineering requirements. To meet those requirements at another location would require bringing in large amounts of fill, and having to remove many other trees. Friends of Pier Park , the advocacy group working at Pier has known about the need for over a year, I believe. It was no secret that the trees would be removed, it was only when a notice was tacked to the tree that Dennis got involved. His main complaint was the city not following the same requirements a property owner must.
    He does not have the support of the Friends of Pier,nor the St Johns Neighborhood Assoc. He requested SJNA support and did not get it. He does know how to get Channel 2 out there.

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  • bjorn February 21, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    This kind of thing is the reason why I refuse to plant trees that will grow to any height on my property, if you want a giant sequoia in your yard fine, but one tree more or less in the city is not going to matter and I am sure the parks department will probably end up planting a number of trees in the process of landscaping the bridge. Trees are good, but when you make them impossible to cut down you create a huge disincentive for anyone to want to allow one to be planted on land they control.

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    • Chris I February 22, 2013 at 7:26 am

      Exactly. Urban trees are great, but they shouldn’t be treated as some holy monument, immune to damage and destruction. We do a fantastic job planting trees in this area. I have worked with Friends of Trees, and have planted 6 trees on my property. But sometimes trees need to be removed, and that should be okay. The key is that we replant even more, and that is exactly what they are doing with this project.

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  • Psyfalcon February 21, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    I think a lot of people have a certain reaction to “sequoia.” Over logging, trying to protect them in California and so on. Up here though, they’re not native, or endangered, they’re an ornamental species planted by people.

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  • john peterson February 21, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    find a re-route or explain why a re-route is not possible…problem solved

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  • Arem February 21, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Can’t please everyone…and attempting to is a task in futility.

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  • dk February 21, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    if he were fighting to save a tree from the road, we’d all be on his side. Just sayin’ Am I calling some of you hypocrytites, no. But if you think maybe you are.. well then, that’s your cross to bear.

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    • DK February 25, 2013 at 11:31 am

      Not the first time you’ve posted…Why are you using my handle? Peace.

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      • dk February 25, 2013 at 11:34 am

        because it’s my initials πŸ™‚ I will change promptly so as not to cause confusion.

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        • DK February 25, 2013 at 11:36 am

          Mine too. πŸ˜‰
          Thank you for doing that.

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    • DK February 25, 2013 at 11:34 am

      Compromise: Clone the tree from cuttings.

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  • Terry D February 21, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    Anyone who knows anything about engineering and looks at the sight would realize that this tree needs to go if those two parks are going to ever be connected. What use is having excellent parks if you can not get to them? Just look at the area before you freak out……this is one tree of many in a grove not an esteemed tree of special historical worth. It was planted when the park was established. The park’s department is planting many…many…replacements.

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  • ScoBu February 22, 2013 at 8:13 am

    One of the reasons I love walking through this park is that it has the feeling of some of my favorite old growth forests in the back country. Tall trees, no underbrush..it has that amazing vertical and horizontal space that you can only find in places with old growth. Granted, you don’t see too many frisbee discs thrown around in the back country but it doesn’t take away from that feeling. My point is that taking this one tree does nothing to the overall esthetic of the park. It won’t really change the immediate area where it stands. I live in St Johns and take my dog to Chimney Park nearly every day (it is mainly a fenced, off leash dog park if anyone is curious). I walk there a lot have to cross the rail road tracks or head over the Columbia Ave bridge. Both are doable, but neither is preferable. The bridge has a ton of broken glass that I’m sure will cause a problem with my dog sooner or later. A pedestrian bridge would be great because more people would walk to Chimney park instead of driving.

    If they were proposing to cut a swath of trees for a new path through the park or a new set of playground equipment I would feel differently. This is one tree and the benefit will be worth it.

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  • maxd February 22, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Typical Parks, as a means to mitigate the loss of the tree, they are proposing to repurpose it into a nature playground! What an awesome idea, one that everyone can feel good about. Except…instead of leaving it in Pier or Chimney Parks, they are trucking it across town to the wealthiest neighborhood in Portland! Nice.


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  • John Landolfe February 22, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Instead of burning money on a mediator, why doesn’t the City instead spend money on the architect and ask them to draft an alteration to the concept? Designs that incorporate the surrounding environment can have exceptional aesthetic results. Consider PSU’s Millar Library. I know we’re all eager for better bike infrastructure but if the tree is really over 80 years old and over 100 feet tall, we’d all be dead before a replanted tree reached that maturity.

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    • Granpa February 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      Instead of burning money on a mediator why don’t they just get on with it and cut the thing down.

      Oh they already have!!

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  • middle of the road guy February 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Only in Portland……

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  • nrdbomber February 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    …seems to me there’s a weird ravine they have to cross. They should just fill that big crack with a bunch of dirt and you could completely connect the two parks πŸ˜‰

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    • Terry D February 22, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      I am sure the railroad would have something to say about that.

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  • nrdbomber February 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    …by the way, you can “walk” the trail in this area on google maps.

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  • just joe February 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    but this is now a moot discussion. The tree has been cut down.

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  • Hugh Johnson February 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    If this didn’t serve the interests of cyclists this would be the latest outrage on BikePortland…posters would be calling for somebody’s head. But it’s for us so it’s cool to cut down a ancient living thing.

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    • just joe February 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm

      Outrage? Not so much. Yes, it serves the interests of cyclists. and of pedestrians, dog park users, disc golfers, families, commuters. And whoever.
      Keep it in perspective. The bridge at Pier/Chimney is part of the North Portland Greenway Trail. It also connects two formerly separated parks, distinctly different. Whenever there are obstacles to community, be they roads, railroad tracks, rivers, whatever can be done to limit those dividers stands to create a bigger sense of community. I am not outraged, I welcome the trail, when it is built. I welcome the sense of connection to the river, the wetlands at Smith&Bybee, the jobs at RIvergate and Swan Island.. the neighborhoods along the npgreenway alignment, and the jobs, the chance to get the kids out and burn off some energy. In this larger picture, this angst about one tree seems mighty small to me.

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  • Laura February 28, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    “The road has to be big enough to handle trucks, which is part of the reason it couldn’t be drawn to go around the stand of trees.” http://www.portlandmercury.com/BlogtownPDX/archives/2013/02/22/pier-park-sequoia-comes-thunking-down-in-pieces-its-like-a-body

    What? After reading the bikeportland article I was under the impression that this was a pedestrian bridge, but then found the above quote. please explain

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  • Madya Starr March 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    @DRUDGE_REPORT 100 year old Sequoia Tree cut down by Portland Parks for GREENway video

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  • Madya Starr March 28, 2013 at 8:40 pm